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Curtis Bay Incinerator

The Dripby Brew Editors11:00 pmApr 6, 20110

Trash-burning power plants pricey and polluting, environmentalists say

Today an industry consultant told Baltimore Sun readers why they should support pending legislation in Annapolis to give greater rate-payer-paid subsidies to Maryland trash incinerators.

Since one of the “clean and efficient” power-plants covered by the bills the author was touting (SB690 and HB1121) could be the trash-and-tire-burning Energy Answers International facility proposed for south Baltimore, we thought Brew readers might like to hear another view.

“Incinerators release toxic and carcinogenic pollutants and are, per-kilowatt generated, actually dirtier than coal,” said Greg Smith, of Community Research, one of a coalition of environmental groups opposing the bills.

The 120-megawatt Energy Answers plant, proposed for South Baltimore, survived legal challenges by the Environmental Integrity Project and received Public Service Commission approval in August. Alleging that it violates the Clean Air Act and nitrogen emission restrictions, Environmental Integrity has made a request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issue a stop-work order on the project, according to staff attorney Jennifer Peterson. Meanwhile, a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility, featuring Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and other officials, was held in October.

Along with Community Research and Environmental Integrity, the other groups opposing the incinerator legislation include: the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the Audubon Naturalist Society, Clean Water Action and the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance.

Here are some of the environmentalists’ talking points sent to us by Smith – in effect, a counter op-ed:



Incineration is already heavily subsidized in Maryland. The State should not provide even greater subsidies for this expensive, wasteful and polluting technology.

1.      Qualifying waste incineration as a Tier 1 renewable would dilute Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and undermine progress toward legitimate clean, renewable energy.

Burning trash competes with legitimate renewable energy such as wind and solar. HB 1121 and SB 690 would dilute the standard and negate the impact of the RPS in driving the development of renewable energy.

If these bills pass, incinerators will flood Maryland’s RPS, and the RPS will not do its job of encouraging development of new solar or wind power.

Financial subsidies to incineration would undermine less expensive, more sustainable approaches to waste reduction and energy generation.

2.      Waste incinerators are the most expensive form of energy generation.

Examining twenty-six ways to generate electricity, the US Energy Information Administration found that garbage incineration:

  • Has the highest capital cost among 26 ways to generate electricity, including coal, gas, nuclear, biomass, hydro, geothermal, wind and solar.
  • Has the highest fixed operating and maintenance costs.
  • Has the highest combined capital and fixed operating and maintenance costs.
  • Has the eighth highest variable operating and maintenance costs, which depend mainly on the cost of “fuel”.
  • Costs more than 40% more than small-scale solar and off-shore wind, in terms of capital costs and fixed O&M costs.
  • Costs nearly twice as much as large-scale solar and solar thermal, in terms of capital costs and fixed O&M costs.
  • Costs significantly more than geothermal.
  • Costs more than three times as much as on-shore wind.

3.      Waste incinerators undermine efforts to fight climate change.

According to the US EPA, waste incineration produces more global warming CO2 per megawatt-hour than any other form of electricity generation. Incineration generates nearly 25 percent more CO2 per megawatt even than coal – the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. (Incineration generates 2988 lbs CO2 /MWh.  Coal generates 2249 lbs.)

4.      Waste incinerators do not generate renewable energy.

Maryland’s garbage incinerators burn enormous quantities of recyclable and compostable materials, creating enormous, unsustainable demand for raw materials. They compete directly with recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion systems.

5.      Waste incinerators are not energy-efficient.

Recycling a ton of material saves far more energy than burning generates. That’s wasted energy, not “waste to energy”.

6.      Burning garbage is the most expensive way to manage solid waste. Incinerators need trash and cash, and they undermine more cost-effective waste prevention, recycling and composting programs that can significantly reduce landfill demand.

Incinerators’ huge capital, operating and maintenance costs creates equally huge demands for trash and cash.

The proposed Frederick County 1,500 ton-per-day incinerator is slated to cost $500+ million; that’s 25 times more than a similarly sized recycling facility in Elk Ridge required an investment under $20 million.

Most large incinerators are financed with massive debt, usually massive public debt, and that debt can be risky.

7.      Waste incinerators create one-tenth as many jobs as recycling, on a ton-by-ton basis.

The technology exists to reuse, recycle or compost more than 80 percent of the materials that many U.S. jurisdictions burn or landfill today.

If the United State were to recycle 75 percent of the resources that it currently burns or landfills, we could create more than 1.5 million new jobs.

8.      Incineration is not “clean” energy. Waste incinerators pollute. Garbage in, garbage out. Pollutants that don’t go up the smoke stack wind up in the ash.

Incinerators release toxic and carcinogenic pollutants through air and ash emissions.

For certain pollutants, incinerator emissions are higher even than for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Incinerator emissions include:

  • acid gases,
  • smog-forming pollutants;
  • fine particle pollution that can be highly toxic and that can penetrate deeply into the lungs;
  • carbon monoxide;
  • lead, mercury and other heavy metals; and
  • dioxins, furans and PCBs, which are some of the most toxic chemicals known; and at least 190 volatile organic compounds.

Incinerator operators do not continuously monitor their stack emissions for the most toxic pollutants, such as mercury, lead, dioxins, and PCBs.

9.      Waste incinerators often exceed emission limits, despite new pollution control technologies.

Just in the last year:

  • A Wheelabrator incinerator in Saugus, Mass., faced allegations of violations discharging hazardous chemicals into the air and water, spurring an investigation by the Massachusetts Attorney General.
  • A Covanta incinerator in Connecticut was shut down for excessive dioxin emissions, and sued by the Connecticut Attorney General.
  • A Covanta incinerator in Newark, NJ, was forced to settle a court case brought by local community groups after they revealed that the facility had committed hundreds of violations of the Clean Air Act.

10.     Waste incinerators are widely opposed.

The State of Massachusetts recently upheld its moratorium on building new incinerators. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, and 130 other organizations have signed a statement calling for no financial incentives for incinerators.

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