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Source: The Epoch Times

Burning Garbage to Create Electricity

Energy from waste debated as a renewable resource


Posted: August 11, 2011
Originally Published: August 10, 2011

NEW YORK—Burning trash to make energy may seem like an ideal end to the millions of tons of trash New Yorkers produce, but not all agree that our trash should be considered as a renewable resource.

The state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) is currently accepting public input on Covanta Energy Corporation's request to qualify burning garbage as a renewable energy source. The PSC will accept public feedback until Aug. 19.

Covanta operates Energy from Waste (EfW) power plants across the United States and around the globe. The company is requesting for the EfW to become part of New York's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which is funded in part by a small percentage from residential electric bills.

If the request is accepted, Covanta would receive a portion of the $175 million the RPS receives annually in funding dedicated to increasing renewable energy in New York and developing renewable energy sources.

Past requests to include burning trash in the RPS have been rejected by the PSC.

In its corporate sustainability report, Covanta explained in detail the process of using trash incineration to produce electricity. Garbage is collected and dumped into a self-sustaining combustion chamber where the heat from burning trash is used to boil water and produce steam. The steam then drives a turbine that generates electricity. In the process, high temperature reduces garbage to ash and gases.

The New Jersey-based company states that EfW is a renewable energy source because waste is always being produced and the process of creating energy through waste incineration preserves natural resources. According to Covanta, this matches the International Environmental Agency’s definition of renewable energy sources as energy “derived from natural processes that are replenished constantly.”

Environmental groups and clean energy advocates generally disagree that garbage should be defined as a renewable resource.

“While our society produces more and more garbage, that doesn’t make it a renewable resource,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE). “Covanta’s request flies in the face of the intent of the RPS and would only detract from the state’s ability to develop a clean energy economy.”

Brian Smith, CCE’s communications and program director, emphasized that the PSC had turned down past attempts to include garbage incineration as part of renewable energy sources, stating that Covanta cannot offer anything to change the PSC's position.

“It seems that you can’t keep a bad idea down,” he said. “We are counting on the PSC to recognize that this petition is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing and reject it outright.”

There are also concerns that allocating funds to Covanta will affect investment in existing renewable energy sources.

“Allowing trash incineration to participate in the RPS will significantly impede New York’s ability to invest in clean, emissions-free technologies like solar, wind, and hydro power,” said Carol E. Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York. “That goes against the intent of the RPS program and would be a major step back in our fight against global climate change.”

The Sierra Club states on its website that waste should not be used as a source of energy, and definitely should not be labeled as a renewable energy source. The website cites research conducted by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, which shows that garbage burning incinerators and the ash produced in the garbage incinerating process negatively affect the health of communities.

“The public agreed to the RPS fee as a means to advance our state in developing and using clean, safe, emissions-free renewable energy,” said Esposito. “It would be a breach of public trust to change course and use those funds to expand incinerators of waste.”