Curious Why State Has Moratorium On Trash To Energy Plants

By David Wade, WBZ-TV

WAREHAM (CBS) — It’s a fact – we need renewable energy.

It’s also a fact that we throw away millions of tons of garbage every year.

So some people say, let’s use trash to create power.  But in Massachusetts, it’s not easy.

Jeff from Gardner Declared his Curiosity about that asking:  “Why the state hasn’t lifted the moratorium on trash to energy conversion plants?”

Well as we found out, it’s a fight about the future.

We visited the Covanta plant in Wareham where they take a million tons of trash each year, burn it and turn it into electricity.

“We generate about 80 megawatts of power and that serves about 80,000 households,” says Paul Gilman of Covanta.

Massachusetts has seven of these waste-to-energy power plants incinerating half the garbage that’s left after recycling.

“That is our fuel,” says Gilman.

The other half goes into landfills either in the state or sometimes out of state.  And in some cases, those landfills are filling up.

So why aren’t there more plants using this very renewable fuel here in the Bay State?

“We are not allowing either the expansion of existing facilities, or the construction of new facilities,” says Jim Colman of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The state has a “just say no” policy, a moratorium that’s been in effect for 20 years.  The industry claims it’s crazy to limit a source of power, but the state says the ban will help us reach a long term goal.

“If we build them we’re essentially building a disposal infrastructure which we don’t want to have,” says Jim Colman.  He works on waste issues for the DEP.

Colman says we have enough trash to energy capacity now, because the future is the 3 R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle — which will limit the need for these facilities in the first place.

“We think over the next 20 to 30 years there will be significant changes in how we handle our trash in this country,” says Colman.

“There are no other states that have a moratorium like this,” says Paul Gilman from Covanta.  He argues that their waste to energy power plants are sound technology now and years from now, and that the goal of reduce, reuse, recycle is perfectly compatible.  “You can grow recycling, you can grow energy recovery and you can reduce sending garbage to landfills.”

The industry can argue all it wants, but it’s the state that holds the cards.  The question for the future is have they made the right bet.

More from David Wade
  • D

    I guess you just don’t get it. The moratorium will stay in effect because the State says so. There, that ends the discussion on a high note. And, by the way, the moratorium is good for you because you wouldn’t want all that trash to energy thing going on right here making bad things happen (huh? ever hear of combustion controls and stack scrubbers?) when the trash they think we should bury is converted to energy through a mass-burn process (remember when landfills were bad?). It is much, much better to let little Rhody or backward New Hampshire do it way over there so our royal highness, the commonwealth, can absolutely, positively protect us from the folly of the free market. And since when do creepy regulators get to decide what is best for us? Oh, I forgot. It’s been, ah, hmmm, for about a generation or two. It sucks to be us.

  • Maureen Doyle

    Getting energy from used diapers seems healthier for all involved than does piling them up somewhere. This is a win-win formula.

  • hackwannabe

    The STATE is NOT doing it because there is no way for a Politician to make money, like CAPE WIND! If they could TAX the trash that is burned then we would have 1,000 plants in the State.
    Maybe we should make a law that only State Workers can be employed by the plants, that would let them be built.

  • john45

    We are the state we have no king or czar. It is up to us to tell the state that there is no viable study to back them and to increase the energy to trash plant capacity now.

  • Cathy

    Two things.
    I live in an apartment complex & there are no recycle bins. hanging that would increase the number of people recycle.
    Also, why isn’t this question on the ballot. Let the people decide.

  • Lets Talk Trash

    David— DO some research…PLEASE!!!
    The ban went into place as a result of research which showed how the neighborhood children surrounding the “Dirty Dozen” mass incinerators- were heavily impacted with the highest incidence of pediatric asthma admissions during thermal inversions over the decades following the plant starting operations.. Look up the history. Old technology? Not so..- even as recently as this August:
    “Fairfield-based Covanta sued for pollution by Connecticut attorney general”
    “The incinerator has exceeded its permitted pollution limits more than 900 times in five years,”
    Try some homework— eh ACE?

  • randy

    “trash to energy plant” is a euphemism for INCINERATOR or Trash Burning Plant. Incinerators release hazardous materials into the air or in ash, including lead, mercury, chromium, and dioxin. They are equipped with “scrubbers” which remove most of the particles using water or magnets (I think), but this just transfers the contamination from air to ash. Whether this is better than burying the raw trash depends on what is being burned. The ash certainly takes up much less space. Oh, and the ash contains hazardous material, but is exempt from classification as hazardous waste, and is given priority for disposal in landfills. If you think this is bad in MA, go to NY and see how they site a trash burning plant in a poor residential neighborhood with the smokestack level with a subsidized elderly housing nearby. And it was built by the county government, but sold at a loss and is now owned by Waste Management. And there is a coal-burning cement factory nearby. You can smell the stink from the cement factory, and when the wind conditions are right you get a choking suffocating smoke in the neighborhood. One time multiple family members experienced sudden unexplained (temporary) hair loss.

    In MA, the EPA shut down most of the incinerators within 128 about 1973 (municipal, back yard, & businesses such as supermarkets burning cardboard boxes).

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