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Source: The Day

Bill would add premium price to power from burning trash

BY JUDY BENSON

Posted: March 5, 2012
Originally Published: March 3, 2012

Hartford - Utilities would have to pay the same premium rates for electricity generated by trash incinerators as they pay for solar, wind, fuel cell, hydroelectric, wave and tidal power and other types of renewable energy, under a bill being considered by the state legislature.

The bill is intended to offset tipping fees paid by municipalities that bring their garbage to trash-to-energy plants by bringing more revenue from electricity sales.

At an Environment Committee public hearing Friday, David Aldridge, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority, said the bill would help keep trash-to-energy plants around the state financially viable for another 20 years or more. Located in Preston, the SCRRRA plant incinerates about 700 million tons of trash annually from 12 southeastern Connecticut towns.

Under current law, electricity providers are required to purchase some of their power from "Class 1" renewable energy sources at a premium rate. Aldridge said that can mean the difference between selling electricity at about 3.5 cents per kilowatt versus about 5.5 cents per kilowatt. SCRRA, he added, is currently selling the electricity it generates under a contract that expires in 2017, so it would not see an immediate benefit from the bill, but supports it for the long-term.

"Towns made a huge investment 20 years ago in these facilities, and this bill would help to keep that investment sustainable," he said.

His testimony echoed that of Thomas Kirk, president of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, and other industry representatives. CRRA, based in Hartford, incinerates trash from 96 towns.

Also there in support of the bill were the first selectmen of Granby and Canton, joined by Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno. All three towns bring their trash to the CRRA plant.

Eno, a director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said that organization is "very worried" about an escalation in tipping fees at the incinerators, and sees the bill as a way to help control the costs of trash disposal for municipalities.

Representatives of three environmental groups, however, strongly opposed the bill, arguing that it would undermine the state's efforts to develop energy resources that are "truly renewable."

"We don't want to let landfill and waste policy generate our energy policy," said Martin Mador, legislative policy chairman for the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Louis Burch, program coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the bill amounts to "an incentive to create more solid waste," which is contrary to the state's goals of reducing the solid waste through reuse and recycling.

"While garbage may be plentiful, it is not a renewable resource," he said.


State Rep. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, the committee co-chairman, and Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, questioned whether the trash burned in trash-to-energy plants meets the definition of a renewable resource as defined by the existing statute.

"Trash is a renewable in the sense that, as long as there are humans on the planet, we will be generating it," Meyer said. "This is a tough one for us, because we like the concept of trash to energy and reducing the costs" to municipalities. Keeping incinerators financially viable also prevents more costly means of disposal, such as transporting it out of state, he said.

Mushinsky said she sees little difference between energy from trash incinerators and electricity generated by methane from landfills, which the current law lists as one type of "Class 1 renewable energy source."

Amy Kullenberg of Groton, staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said the measure would be counterproductive to renewable energy development from solar, wind, hydroelectric and other sources, because there are startup projects that need the financial advantage the existing law provides without competition from trash incinerators. The foundation, based in Providence, works on environmental issues throughout New England.

The bill also could provide an incentive to burn more trash, she said, and in the process increase polluting emissions from the incinerators. It could even motivate plants to start importing trash from out of state, she said.

"If you do this, you are really going to be sacrificing the opportunity for solar, wind and hydro to develop," she said.