A recommendation from Maine Public Utilities Commission to resolve a dispute over fees charged by Central Maine Power Co. to connect a biomass plant being developed by Georges River Energy LLC in Searsmont is largely supported by both companies.

In an April filing, Georges River Energy, which is owned by members of the Robbins family, asked MPUC to determine whether CMP can charge fees — known as operations and maintenance charges — for connecting a proposed 8.5-megawatt biomass plant to the electrical grid.

Those fees, according to previous reports, would total $28,640 per month, for a yearly cost of $343,680. The Robbinses estimated the charges, assessed over a 49-year period, would total $16,840,320, which is nearly half of the project's construction cost.

That amount, the Robbinses asserted, could prevent the project from moving forward.

Central Maine Power, however, argues that a customer-generator project, such as the biomass plant, is responsible for all operations and maintenance costs on interconnection facilities. Furthermore, the company stated that ongoing operations and maintenance costs are actual costs associated with required distribution upgrades that are installed solely to accommodate the customer-generator facility.

Some of the required upgrades include reconstructing a 4.8-mile, three-phase line, according to MPUC documents.

In its response filed late in April, CMP also called into question Georges River Energy's assertion that the fees would top $16 million.

The MPUC noted in its draft recommended decision that Georges River Energy's request for dispute resolution raised issues about whether a project such as the biomass plant should have to pay for ongoing operations and maintenance expenses for distribution upgrades, and how those charges should be determined and assessed.

Based on its review of the information provided by Georges River Energy and CMP, the commission reached the conclusion that Georges River Energy should pay for expenses related to distribution upgrades. However, the commission states there are no incremental operations and maintenance fees associated with reconstructing the 4.8-mile, three-phase line.

“These O&M expenses, as well as the O&M expenses for the interconnection facilities, shall be charged to GRE based on the actual costs incurred to operate and maintain these facilities rather than pursuant to Section 13 of CMP's terms and conditions,” the commission states in the draft decision.

The commission also directed CMP and Georges River Energy to work together to develop a protocol for billing actual operations and maintenance expenses.

Georges River Energy mostly agreed with the draft recommendation, according to comments submitted in reference to MPUC's decision. The company asked that MPUC adopt the recommended decision with two changes that state operations and maintenance expenses charges will not be imposed on distribution upgrades, and that the final decision provide more defined expense categories to help CMP and Georges River Energy develop an invoicing protocol.

“GRE emphasizes that, in order to make a feasibility determination regarding interconnection of a project that is on a short schedule to design, permit and build, it is vital for GRE (and for CMP) to have a prompt and final decision in this dispute resolution that provides fair, clear and concise guidance so that the project has the benefit of predictable O&M expense assignment,” the company states in response to MPUC's draft decision.

Central Maine Power, like Georges River Energy, also agreed in large part with the draft decision. However, the company did ask that MPUC, in its final decision, require Georges River Energy pay operations and maintenance charges on distribution upgrades and interconnection facilities to connect the project to the grid, and that CMP's 1.38-percent operations and maintenance rate is the correct rate to charge.

The draft recommendation does not represent formal commission action.

The project has until 2018 to begin generating power under the terms of the state's Community-Based Renewable Energy Program. If it is brought online, the plant would burn bark, wood chips and sawdust, which in turn would power a steam turbine to generate electricity. Waste heat from the plant would be used to dry lumber and heat buildings at the adjacent Robbins Lumber sawmill.

All of the electricity generated by the plant would go onto the grid and CMP would purchase the power at a rate of 9.9 cents per kilowatt hour for a 20-year period.

Late in April, MPUC denied a request from Georges River Energy to increase the net generating capacity of the biomass plant from 7.5 megawatts to 9.5 megawatts.