A request to burn trash in order to make electricity, and to have the electricity count towards Arizona’s renewable energy goals, was passed by the Arizona Corporation Commission on July 18, 2011, the Arizona Republic reports.
According to the news source, Mohave Electric made the request to produce electricity from trash in order to meet the commission’s renewable energy requirements, which state that utilities must receive 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
The small company based out of northwestern Arizona asked for the right to burn trash because the incinerator it would use was not on the approved list of energy sources that counted as renewable.
The commission voted 3-2, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
According to the Arizona Republic, the decision has environmentalists and other renewable energy providers upset, saying that Mohave will spend the tariff money that it collects on the trash program rather than more efficient renewable sources like wind and solar.
“Municipal solid waste should not be considered a renewable resource and should not qualify for credits under Arizona’s renewable-energy standard,” Sandy Bahr, director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, told the Republic.
“Waste incinerators were specifically rejected when the renewable-energy standard was established because of the negative environmental impacts and the fact that the waste can include hazardous materials, tires and other non-renewable resources,” she said.
Today’s waste-to-energy plants are power plants that utilize municipal solid waste as their fuel rather than coal, oil or natural gas. Far better than expending energy to explore, recover, process and transport the fuel from some distant source, waste-to-energy plants find value in what others consider garbage. Waste-to-energy plants recover the thermal energy contained in the trash in highly efficient boilers that generate steam that can be used on-site to drive turbines for electricity production.
Waste-to-energy meets the two basic criteria for establishing what a renewable energy resource is—its fuel source (trash) is sustainable and indigenous. Waste-to-energy facilities recover valuable energy from trash after efforts to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” have been implemented by households and local municipalities.
According the Energy Recovery Council, waste-to-energy plants meet the most stringent environmental standards, despite the negative attention the process has received.These facilities employ the most advanced emissions control equipment available including scrubbers to control acid gases, fabric filters to control particulate, selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR) to control nitrogen oxides, and carbon injection to control mercury and organic emissions. Life cycle studies have shown that waste-to-energy reduces one ton of carbon dioxide equivalents for every one ton of trash it processes.
Modern waste-to-energy facilities are subject to comprehensive health risk assessments. The National Research Council wrote in its study that today’s waste-to-energy facilities are designed and operated to produce nearly complete combustion of waste and emit low amounts of pollutants. Waste-to-energy destroys pathogens, organics, and other disease-bearing material in trash. Trash coming into a waste-to-energy facility is handled in enclosed tipping halls that are maintained under negative pressure to pull air directly into the boilers and destroy any odors.
The facility would receive about 500 tons per day of trash – about 5 percent of the total generated in metro Phoenix – and about a quarter of it could be recycled, according to the commission. Communities with waste-to-energy plants tend to have a higher average recycling rate than the national average. Waste-to-energy plants annually recover more than 700,000 tons of ferrous metals on-site.
According to the U.S. EPA, waste-to-energy is a “clean, reliable, renewable source of energy.” Modern waste-to-energy facilities meet or exceed EPA’s Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards. America’s waste-to-energy facilities spent $1 billion to retrofit pollution control equipment to achieve the strictest federal standards. “The performance of the MACT retrofits has been outstanding,” according to the U.S. EPA. “Upgrading of the emissions control system of large combustors to exceed the requirements of the Clean Air Act Section 129 standards is an impressive accomplishment.”
The facility would have a capacity of 11 megawatts, according to the commission, which is enough to supply about 2,750 homes at once while the plant is running.