It’s official: the city has terminated its power purchase agreement with a New York-based company seeking to build a trash incinerator on the Fairfield peninsula in South Baltimore.
Changing course on a controversial project that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has supported strongly, the Board of Estimates voted yesterday to terminate the city’s agreement to buy power from Energy Answers International, Inc.
The city school system announced this week it also is terminating its agreement to buy power from the facility, which has been the target of protests by neighborhood and environmental groups since the company first proposed to build it five years ago.
Free Your Voice, a human rights committee of United Workers based in Curtis Bay with a heavy contingent of local students, made national headlines with years of organizing against siting the 160-megawatt plant less than a mile from a school in this industrial corner of the city.
But City Hall isn’t citing environmental or health concerns this week when making a move that deals a significant blow to the project.
Instead, it has faulted Energy Answers for failing to meet project deadlines.
“The agreement contained certain milestones that have not been met by the vendor. The vendor has been given 30 days termination notice in accordance with Section 5.1 of the agreement,” according to the text of the item on board’s agenda.
“The Board is requested to terminate this contract for convenience effective April 17, 2015, as being in the best interest of the City.”
Green Jobs or Greenwash?
Rawlings-Blake, Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state and local officials backed the project strongly in the early years, saying it would keep trash out of landfills and create construction jobs and permanent employment that would benefit the city.
City government, city schools and 20 other regional government and cultural entities signed a contract to purchase power from the facility, to be built on the site of an old chemical plant.
The Environmental Integrity Project and other environmental groups, meanwhile, published reports on the particulates and heavy metals that the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project would be permitted to release and said the plant was essentially a glorified trash incinerator that would pollute the region’s air and water.
Delays also dogged the project.
Energy Answers’ permit, approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2010, required them to start work on the project in February 2012. But by August of that year, no construction had taken place and the company asked for more time.
Company officials said they were having trouble finding enough buyers for the power or sellers of the necessary annual 4,000 tons of waste needed for fuel. They also say they need more time to finish a study showing the plant would not violate current pollution control laws.
In the years that followed, there was little construction activity onsite but, outside the metal fence, plenty of political activity. Free Your Voice knocked on doors in the neighborhood and buttonholed the school officials and museum directors of the entities who had signed agreements to buy power.
In February, the committee of government and private power buyers – the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee (BRCPC) – voted to recommend terminating the contract, surprising even the activists who had been pushing them to do so.
City officials until now have been silent on the meaning of the BRCPC vote but the opponents see it as the fruit of their labors.
The decision shows that collective action can effect change in high places, said Greg Sawtell, an organizer with Free Your Voice.
“Students, community members and environmentalists have been protesting the massive waste-to-energy incinerator because it would cause more air pollution to a community that already suffers some of the most toxic air pollution in Maryland,” he said.
Sawtell said if the BRCPC entities all follow the lead of city schools and city government, Energy Answers will have lost about 20% of the energy contracts it needs to run the plant.
Estimating that the BRCPC contract represents about 20% of the purchasing commitment the plant needed to run profitably, Sawtell said that the collapse of the compact would “remove an important source of revenue for the project.”