Oneida Seven Generation Corporation's Trash Gasification Plant
"MAGIC BULLETS” FOR SOLID WASTE
THAT TRASH RECYCLING, RENEWABLES, AND SOUND ECONOMIC PRINCIPLES
by Shahla M. Werner, Director - John Muir Chapter
Last year the Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter strongly opposed 2009’s Act 406, signed into law in May 2010 by Governor Doyle. Act 406 allows the combustion of synthetic gas produced by pyrolysis or plasma gasification of waste to count towards Wisconsin’s standards to get 10% of our energy from renewable sources by 2015. Carbon dioxide emissions that will result from these processes will contribute to climate change in a way that investing in renewables such as wind and solar will not.
Other groups that opposed this legislation included the Waukesha Environmental Action League, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin Environment, Citizens Utility Board, RENEW WI, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice.
One of the beneficiaries of the new law was the Oneida Seven Generations Corporation (OSGC), who is working with American Combustion Technologies Inc. (ACTI), to construct a waste-to-energy project that would operate within the city of Green Bay. Originally slated for Ashwaubenon, the project location was moved after local citizens voiced strong opposition.
The Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter is opposed to this project due to its possible environmental impacts, economic risks, and potential to undermine recycling and cleaner, safer sources of renewable energy. The Alliance Federated Energy has proposed a much larger plasma gasification project for the Milwaukee area that would also benefit from this new law.
The OSGC project, estimated to cost around $23 million dollars, will create roughly 30 jobs once operating and will generate 5 MW of electricity under best-case conditions. Funding for the project would be provided by a loan of up to $2 million in federal funds offered through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and up to $584,000 from the Department of Interior, as well as a federal loan guarantee of $19 million dollars. Alliance Federated Energy’s project poses even greater economic risks, as it is projected to cost $225 million, create 45 jobs once operating, and generate 25 MW of electricity.
No plasma or pyrolysis gasification plant has ever been successfully deployed for managing municipal solid waste in the United States. “Wisconsin should not be a guinea pig for the rest of the nation taking an expensive economic and environmental gamble on this technology,” said John Reindl, a Sierra Club volunteer leader with over 40 years of experience in waste management.
Depending on the feedstock used, pyrolysis and plasma gasification plants dealing with solid waste could emit harmful levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur dioxide, heavy metals, mercury, dioxins and furans. What is not emitted into the air could result in char, which could concentrate toxins and incur major expenses if it is classified as hazardous waste. The OSGC project is unclear about the exact feedstock that would be used, inconsistencies in their project materials describe the project as either 150 or 300 tons per day and propose either operating the facility 24/7 or operating during weekdays and then closing for weekends. Clarification is needed before emissions can truly be evaluated.
Wisconsin currently diverts 1.6 million tons of material from landfills annually through successful recycling programs, and this supports 97,000 jobs and contributes $5.4 billion dollars to our economy. The OSGC project inappropriately describes itself as a “recycling center” and lists magazines, newspapers, and other paper products as fuel sources. But Wisconsin’s mandatory recycling law prohibits the incineration of magazines, newspaper, corrugated cardboard and office paper (s. 287.07(4)). Recycling could be set back if state statutes are changed to allow materials that could otherwise be recycled to be fed into these types of facilities in order to meet operational requirements.
Despite local opposition, the OSGC proposal was granted a conditional use permit by the Green Bay City Council in March, and the DOE recently wrapped up a comment period for an environmental assessment of this project. John Muir Chapter Conservation Chair Will Stahl and local activist Rich Krieg attended local hearings and helped prepare comments on this proposal. For more information on the project’s current status, please see http://biomass.ashwaubenon.com/
Considering the unproven nature of pyrolysis and plasma gasification, the potential for toxic air emissions and hazardous ash, and the risk of undermining recycling and renewable energy, the John Muir Chapter urges communities to invest in better alternatives to these “magic bullets” for handling municipal solid waste. More energy and more jobs can be created with projects that encourage recycling, foster real renewables, avoid landfilling and incineration, and hold producers.