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Source: Albany Times Union

Trash burn plants ask green label, subsidies

PSC takes up issue for third time as burn plant operator presses case


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

ALBANY -- A fight is brewing over whether burning residential trash as fuel to generate electricity will be considered renewable energy, which would make the plants eligible for state subsidies.

New Jersey-based Covanta Energy Corp., which operates seven burn plants in the state, wants its generating process to be added to the state Public Service Commission list of renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, biomass and methane gas from landfills.

The company and its supporters, which includes numerous state and local officials, maintain the technology is clean, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserves landfill space. But environmental opponents said subsidizing burning will discourage recycling to feed refuse to plants and will divert state support from cleaner energy sources.

This would be the third time during the past decade the commission has considered adding "energy from waste" plants to the state Renewable Portfolio Standard. Both times, the commission rejected the move, spokesman James Denn said Wednesday.

The standard requires the state obtain 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015. The current figure is 22.7 percent.

To encourage renewable developers, the state since 2004 has offered subsidies that now total about $250 million a year. Much of the funding has gone to wind-power sites to make them more competitive with traditional power plants.

The subsidies come from a surcharge on residential utility bills that average about 25 cents a month.

Covanta operates plants in Dutchess County; on Long Island in Nassau and Suffolk counties; in Onondaga County in central New York; and Niagara County in western New York.

"This technology is already recognized as renewable energy in 25 other states, by the U.S. government and the European Union," said Paul Gilman, Covanta chief sustainability officer. He said waste burning will help the state meet its renewable energy goal because it is a reliable source of energy that operates continuously, unlike wind and solar.

Gilman declined to say how much of a subsidy the seven plants could receive, but said the subsidies might allow existing plants to expand.

The company applied to the commission in February 2011 to be classified as a renewable energy providers.

A public comment period on the proposal expires Aug. 19.

"While our society produces more and more garbage, that doesn't make it a renewable resource," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Long Island-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "The state ought to be looking for ways to recycle more and create less residential trash, rather than paying subsidies to encourage trash burning."

Opposition also came from the state Alliance for Clean Energy, a lobbying group for wind and solar energy developers, and the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.