Thursday, April 28, 2011

Charlotte isn't the only place thinking about turning garbage into energy

Posted By on Thu, Apr 28, 2011 at 9:31 AM

The below story snippet comes from Maryland, but it's on repeat across the nation as ReVenture-like projects pop up seemingly everywhere. The big difference with ReVenture's waste-to-energy-incinerator-gasification plant is that last word: gasification. What the plant developers have in mind is a new type of technology that combines "off the shelf" incineration technology with newer gasification technology. So far, the only other plant of its kind is a research and development plant in Kansas.

That's a big part of why people are concerned: The technology is as yet unproven, though if it works the way engineers and developers hope, it could be a cleaner alternative to traditional incineration and another way to rid ourselves of the mountains of garbage we produce every day.

However, even with cleaner emissions, there will still be emissions. And even though ReVenture plans to harvest recycleables to sell, they have admitted that it's impossible to get all of the plastics and metals out of the shredded waste they plan to incinerate/gasify in their plant. That is, in part, because not all plastics and metals are recycleable or retrievable, even with state-of-the-art technology.

With plastics, it's the most toxic types that aren't recycleable — like the plastics that batteries come packaged in. The concern there are emissions containing dioxins and furans, which no one denies are horrible for people's health. Add that to the reality that this plant will be situated near a brand new elementary school and Mount Holly's recently refurbished downtown district (not to mention traffic considerations) and you've got some rightfully concerned citizens who want more information before they'll feel comfortable with ReVenture's plans.

But, again, we're not the only area of the country that's in this situation. Here's what's going down in Maryland, from The Washington Post:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who touts his environmental bona fides, has enthusiastically championed wind power, solar power and electric cars, all in recent months. Now he is facing a much tougher call on an issue that boils down to this:

Just how green is garbage?

Environmentalists in Maryland are urging O’Malley (D) to veto legislation that would put incineration of garbage on par with solar and wind power as a source of renewable energy.

Debate over the bill puts O’Malley in a difficult spot. Many of the groups opposed to the bill stood side by side with the governor as he pressed unsuccessfully for legislation to spur the development of offshore wind power and limit construction of septic systems.

“The question is, should we put as high a priority on waste incineration as we do on solar and wind energy? The answer is not just no, it’s hell, no,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who has urged the administration to reject the bill. “This will result in a windfall for existing waste-to-energy plants. It’s unjustified, and it’s a lousy policy.”

Read the rest of this article, by Ann E. Marimow, here.

Environmentalists worry that if garbage is categorized as a renewable energy source, people and companies will be less likely to use solar and wind alternatives — especially when, as is the case with ReVenture, the state has given its project three times the renewable energy credits.

That might make you wonder why the government is pushing these types of projects so hard. In part, it's because we have to figure out what to do with our waste. While environmentalists would prefer it if people were pushed to recycle and compost first, the government and capitalists, it seems, are ready to jump ahead to incineration ... and everybody wants to get ahead in the renewable energy marketplace.

There's nothing wrong with any of that — encouraging people to be more conscious about producing less waste or wanting to succeed, but there is a problem with racing ahead without carefully considering all of the options and the impact on people's health and the environment. Not to mention the tens of millions of dollars in tax dollars that will get tied up for decades.

But the race is on, and so is the hunt for federal stimulus money which ReVenture has to qualify for by the end of this year. Though, again, we have to ask ourselves why taxpayers should step in to help a private company qualify for stimulus funding.

Citizens and environmentalists are asking the government to slow down on ReVenture, gather more data and study it carefully; let's see if the government will listen to them or to its business partners.

Read our recent post about ReVenture here, and find out what the Center for Public Integrity has to say about similar projects here.

Further reading: Charlotte's air ranks high for pollutionCharlotte Business Journal

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