[NEWS] Burning Wood With Trash in New Hampshire Incinerator?

– by David Brooks, April 26, 2016, Concord Monitor

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Photo: Elizabeth Frantz / Concord Monitor

When you see a mechanical claw the size of an SUV swoop down and grab 3,000 pounds of trash, raise it 40 feet into the air and then drop the load with a thunderous whoosh, you can be sure there’s a specialized term for what you’re watching.

“We call that fluffing the trash,” said John LaRiviere, general manager of the state’s only trash-to-energy plant, in Penacook.

Fluffing? Not very industrial-sounding.

But accurate, LaRiviere said during a recent tour of the Wheelabrator Technologies plant on Whitney Road, just off Exit 17 of Interstate 93.

“You know how when newspaper is wadded up, it’s harder to light in the fireplace? It’s the same here,” he said, gesturing down at 2,200 tons of municipal garbage sent by 20 New Hampshire communities, as crane operator Dan Lacasse tweaked a pair of joysticks that maneuvered the 5-ton claw. Raising and dropping the trash loosens it and makes it more likely to burn easily when dropped into one of the two massive boilers, where fires can reach 2,500 degrees.

If Wheelabrator has its way, processed wood from construction debris will be added to the mix in the wintertime, when the company says the amount of trash declines and tends to be wet from snow and thus hard to burn. The company says such wood, which has higher energy content than trash, can replace propane that is sometimes used to keep the incinerator going.

A proposed state law would allow up to 10,000 tons of “wood residue” to be burned at “any municipal waste combustor,” which indirectly refers to the Penacook site, because Wheelabrator closed the only other trash-to-energy plant in the state, located in Claremont. The bill, SB 381, has passed the Senate and is being considered by the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.

The proposal has drawn opposition from those who fear it is a way for C&D, the shorthand term for debris created by construction and demolition projects, to sneak back into the incineration mix, either for trash-to-energy or biomass power plants.

Toxins associated with C&D, particularly lead in old paint and arsenic in certain wood preservatives, can be emitted in chimney vapor or leftover ash, due to incineration. New Hampshire banned C&D incineration in 2007, as have many other states, which is why a new law would be required.

The debate over the bill touches on the bigger issue of the value of burning trash to make electricity. Waste-to-energy plants are much more common in Europe than the U.S., where they suffer from a legacy of pollution and poor oversight.

Proponents argue that trash-to-energy does good in two ways: by removing material from landfills and generating power that doesn’t have to be produced by fossil fuels.

Opponents, however, argue that by putting a dollar value on trash and turning it into a valuable commodity, trash-to-energy plants make it harder to reduce the amount of waste we make.

“At the very base of this issue is that we do not consider trash a renewable resource,” said Catherine Corkery, chapter director for the New Hampshire Sierra Club, which opposes the bill. “We don’t want to be creating a market for trash.”

“It has had a bad reputation, you’re correct,” said Rich Geisser, division manager for recycling for ReEnergy, which owns Environmental Resource Return Corp. recycling facilities in Epping and Salem. ERRCO hopes to sell wood residue to Wheelabrator if the bill passes and the companies can reach an agreement.

READ MORE at Concord Monitor

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