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If Pittsfield trash incinerator plant sale goes through it will close, which could mean you'll pay more for trash disposal

New owner's goal for Pittsfield's waste-to-energy plant: expand its 'economic life' (copy)

Community Eco Power LLC, of Black Mountain, N.C., is asking a bankruptcy court's permission to sell its Pittsfield waste-to-energy plant on Hubbard Avenue. The prospective buyer, Casella Waste Management of Massachusetts, would decommission the facility and instead run a transfer station on the 5.8-acre parcel. 

PITTSFIELD — If approved by a bankruptcy judge, a national company that boasts of capturing “value from waste” will take over and decommission a Pittsfield incinerator that has been a city landmark for two generations.

Filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court identify Casella Waste Management of Massachusetts as the company poised to pay $1 million to buy the Hubbard Avenue plant, whose smokestacks, visible across the city’s east side, long have concerned environmentalists.

In February, a letter to employees from Richard Fish, Community Eco Power’s president and CEO, confirmed that a prospective new owner intended to dismantle the incinerator, which, in 2021, burned 80,000 tons of trash from Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

In a letter of intent included in a recent bankruptcy court filing, a Casella executive says that if the sale is allowed, it would halt trash incineration in Pittsfield and transform the site into a transfer station. From there, the executive said, trash would be trucked to landfills, possibly including four owned by Casella in New York state.

Closing the incinerator would force Pittsfield and other customers to renegotiate how to dispose of trash, having lost the option to have those costs tempered by the use of waste to generate energy. Casella already holds a contract to collect trash in Pittsfield.

“I’m disappointed that we’re losing this facility, but it’s a reality now,” Mayor Linda Tyer said Thursday. She planned to meet Friday with Stephen N. Pagnotta, the city solicitor, and Ricardo Morales, the commission of public utilities, to review next steps.

“So we can really get a handle on all of this,” she said. “This is not going to happen overnight.”

She acknowledged that the cost of disposing of municipal waste could rise.

Lawyers for Community Eco Power still must persuade U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Elizabeth D. Katz to allow the sale to Casella, a unit of Casella Waste Systems Inc.

At the time of last year’s bankruptcy filing, the company appeared to be working to resolve its debt load and keep the plant operating. The proposed sale changes that — and would end a 40-year run as an incinerator, now one of the oldest in the U.S. As of June, the company employed 21 people.

The proposed sale would include the 5.8-acre 500 Hubbard Ave. plant’s property, improvements, fixtures and equipment, along with its permits and licenses.

In filings, the company argues that a sale offers the best way to pay creditors, though the sale amount is far short of stated debts.

Alterna Capital Solutions LLC was owed $1,391,000 at the time of the June 25 bankruptcy petition; SDI Inc. is owed $5,395,000. Both of those creditors stand first in line to be paid, ahead of unsecured creditors.

Edmond R. Coletta, a Casella vice president and treasurer, said in the letter of intent that his company has experience from the 2013 decommissioning of a waste-to-energy plant in Biddeford, Maine. He said the company’s transition plan for the Pittsfield site is “striving to minimize disruption of service to existing customers and communities.”

Instead of being burned to generate electricity and steam, the 240 tons of trash collected daily at the site would be trucked to Casella-owned or other landfills. The company says it has the capacity in its landfills in New York communities of Morrisonville, Lowman, Stanley and Angelica to take all that the Pittsfield plant no longer would burn.

For Casella, the transaction means that instead of just being paid to move Pittsfield’s trash, it would be paid to dispose of it. The company operates in 40 states.

Community Eco Power bought the plant in May 2019, along with another in Agawam, from Covanta Energy Corp. It was built in 1981 by the Vicon Corp.

At the time, the North Carolina company said that though “older,” the plants had life left that could produce profit if well-run. That appears to have been incorrect. Last June, a lawyer for Eco Power cited high maintenance costs that compelled the company to borrow beyond its ability to cover costs.

In Pittsfield, tipping fees produced 71 percent of Eco Power’s revenue, according to court papers, with the rest coming from the sale of electricity to the grid and steam to other businesses, including Crane Co.

Among its debts, Eco Power’s court filings list $1,340,000 from a second Paycheck Protection Program loan. The company says an earlier PPP loan was forgiven and it expects the second will be forgiven as well, but it remains a liability on the books.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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