Environmental Integrity Project Troubled by Surge in MD Waste-to-Energy Incinerators
Energy Efficient and Alternative Energy in MD
Energy from MD Waste-to-Energy Incinerators Mislabeled as Renewable, Group Says
So-called “waste-to-energy” incinerators are booming in Maryland, but a new report released today by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) cautions that the energy produced is not truly renewable and that the trash incinerators generate significant mercury, lead, ash and other pollution. EIP, along with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and Clean Water Action (CWA), is urging Maryland to tighten its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which is now one of the most lenient in the nation as it relates to trash incinerators, after being recently loosened in a way that equates those facilities to solar and wind energy.
MD Waste-to-Energy Incinerators
WTE facilities combust trash, i.e., municipal solid waste, to generate electricity and produce steam to heat buildings.
Although no incinerators were constructed in the entire country between 1996 and 2007, Maryland currently has at least three projects—the new Energy Answers plant in Baltimore City, the proposed expansion of the Harford County Resource Recovery Facility in Harford County, and the proposed Frederick County Incinerator in Frederick County—under development or already permitted for construction. In addition, Maryland already has two WTE incinerators in Baltimore City and Dickerson.
Key Report Findings
Key EIP report findings include the following:
- The WTE incinerators in Maryland examined for the report emit more pollution per hour of energy produced than each of Maryland’s four largest coal-fired power plants. These emissions include toxic pollutants such as mercury and lead that disproportionately harm children, even in small doses over time.
- The WTE facilities produce ash in the combustion process that can be highly toxic and must be carefully tested to determine its toxicity and appropriate management.
- Incinerators are extremely expensive to construct, often costing hundreds of millions of dollars to build and requiring substantial loans and tax credits.
- Incineration provides fewer jobs and less economic benefits than other waste management options, such as recycling and source reduction.
“If the proposed projects move forward, Maryland is currently on track to more than double its capacity to incinerate trash for energy use,” said Robbie Orvis, EIP research analyst and report author. “Given the fact that this is being done inappropriately under the guise of renewable energy and that it involves significant pollution, the state needs to take a second look at this now.”
“From a waste management perspective, recycling is better for the environment and amount of energy used than incineration,” said Leah Kelly, EIP project attorney. “Furthermore, a report by the Institute for Local Self Reliance estimates that per ton of waste managed, recycling generates 10 times more jobs than incineration does. Although Maryland has one of the highest recycling rates in the country, there is still room to improve its recycling programs, which will lower emissions to the environment, reduce energy use and create more jobs than incineration will.”
Legislative Moves and Recommendations
Maryland recently reclassified WTE incinerators as Tier 1 renewables under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, despite the fact that incinerators do not harness renewable energy. Rather, they rely on a fixed-waste stream, typically consisting of thousands of tons of trash a day. This classification undermines the goal of the RPS and makes Maryland’s RPS one of the most lenient in the country with respect to WTE incinerators.
The EIP report recommends that Maryland:
- Remove WTE incinerators from its RPS
- Invest further in recycling and source reduction programs
- Reconfigure its Clean Energy Production Tax Credit Program to better support and promote clean and renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy
- Increase its statewide pollution monitoring network to better understand new sources of pollution as well as trends in air quality.
For more information, go to EIP’s website. To listen to an audio recording detailing the report here.