Opinion: With Senate Debate Set to Resume, Waste-to-Energy Industry Says Its Fuel Is ‘Clean’

Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

I read with interest the article in Maryland Matters last week describing Senator Hough’s crusade against waste-to-energy’s participation in the state renewable electricity portfolio standard (RPS) and wondered if there was a more misunderstood environmental issue in Annapolis.

At a recent state legislative hearing, supporters of Senator Hough’s position testified that waste-to-energy (WTE) was not “real renewable energy” and should not participate in the RPS because it was not “clean.” This could not be further from the truth as WTE is modern, clean, and renewable despite Senator Hough’s protestations.

The Maryland RPS was created to diversify the state’s largely fossil fuel-powered electric grid by providing critical financial support to climate-friendly sources of electricity that are powered by replenishable fuel sources. This offered support to power sources that would otherwise be financially challenged in the marketplace, such as wind and WTE.

WTE is powered by a renewable source of fuel (post-recycled trash) that is both sustainable and indigenous. WTE
meets the most stringent state and federal emission standards, ensuring that it operates cleanly.

WTE is recognized around the world as a carbon mitigating technology. Those who claim that WTE is worse than coal are merely confusing the issue. For a host of scientific reasons, GHG emissions are best calculated on a lifecycle basis. When evaluated on a lifecycle basis, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency concludes that WTE reduces GHGs by one ton for every ton of waste that is processed.

As a result, Maryland’s two WTE plants avoid more than 1 million tons of GHG emissions every year. Stated another way, if Maryland’s WTE plants closed, GHG emissions would increase. This is exactly the type of technology the RPS was created to support.

WTE uses a fuel source that has only one alternate future: landfill disposal. Trash is not a fuel source that is mined from the earth for the purposes of electric generation (like coal). Rather, ironically, while Senator Hough rails against trash as a renewable resource if it goes to a WTE facility, he is willing to provide RPS support for trash if it is buried in a landfill. The trash from Frederick County, which he represents in the legislature, is trucked up to Pennsylvania where it is landfilled.

In short, WTE uses post-recycled waste, avoids landfilling, reduces GHGs across its lifecycle, diversifies Maryland’s electric grid with power generated in the state, and creates well-paying local jobs filled by Maryland residents that are proud to power Maryland’s renewable future. Providing support for WTE through the RPS is well justified by all reasonable metrics, and we urge Senator Hough and the legislature to tackle real problems facing the State rather than continuing a quixotic fight against WTE.

— TED MICHAELS

The writer is president of the Energy Recovery Council, a national trade association based in Arlington, Va., representing the waste-to-energy industry and communities that own waste-to-energy facilities.