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Lamont Declines To Invest In Trash-To-Energy Plant, Says It’s Time To Move On From Outdated Tech

Lamont Declines To Invest In Trash-To-Energy Plant, Says It’s Time To Move On From Outdated Tech

CT News Junkie, July 16, 2020

By Christine Stuart

Gov. Ned Lamont and Department of Energy and Environmental Commissioner Katie Dykes made it clear Tuesday that they aren’t going to use $330 million in taxpayer funds to help overhaul the state’s largest waste-to-energy facility.

The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority’s board of directors voted in May to begin shutting down the last publicly owned trash-to-energy plant in Connecticut.

The facility in Hartford’s South Meadows neighborhood accepts trash from 51 member towns and many private haulers, but the equipment is outdated and the municipalities can’t afford to pay for improvements without help from the state.

In the interim, it means that Connecticut likely will start shipping more trash to landfills outside of Connecticut.

“The question is, how long will we be reliant on trucking out-of-state?” Dykes said. “The answer is going to depend on how much momentum we can get from municipalities and with the state working with legislative leaders regarding these issues and others to really catalyze this moment.”

She said the state needs to work with companies like Hartford’s Blue Earth Compost – the location of Wednesday’s news conference – to scale up and meet the demands of the market. However, the state is declining to offer any incentives for start-ups like Blue Earth to enter the marketplace with options like anaerobic digestion, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines as the natural process in which microorganisms break down in closed spaces without oxygen.

She said if they don’t come up with sustainable solutions the “market will go toward export.”

The MIRA facility is processing about a third of all the waste generated in the state.

Thomas Kirk, executive director of MIRA, was not immediately available for comment Wednesday, but has said the lack of state support means that they will have to start trucking trash to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York by 2023.

“Hauling waste out of state is a big giant step backward,” Kirk said.

Dykes asked MIRA to draft a new operating plan that considers alternative mechanisms for keeping the state’s waste management system self-sufficient, with predictable costs.

“MIRA’s alternative appears to be to build a transfer operation that will rely on out-of-state landfilling for final disposal. This alternative in inconsistent with MIRA’s statutory requirements,” Dykes wrote. “It is unclear whether DEEP will be able to issue the necessary permits without statutory changes authorizing MIRA to conduct activities that are contrary to the CMMS [Comprehensive Materials Management Strategy].”

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Connecticut has one anaerobic digestion facility, called Quantum Biopower, in Southington.

Lamont said the idea of upgrading a neglected trash-to-energy plant “just didn’t make a whole [lot] of us sense to me and a lot of other people. I think that is the costly solution if we just keep throwing money there.”

He said replacing the trash-to-energy plant with better alternatives will improve how much Connecticut recycles and composts.

“Innovation starts small. It doesn’t happen overnight,” Lamont admitted. “As long as we can rely on trash-to-energy and burning, there will be less incentive for the Blue Earth’s of this world to jump up.”

Sam King of Blue Earth Compost said innovation is not necessarily needed in the industry because “we have these technologies.”

“We just don’t have the investment at this time,” King said.

Dykes declined to say if the state would create any incentives for these start-ups similar to Blue Earth Compost. She said it’s one of the things they’re eager to work on with towns.

Municipalities are likely to see their taxes go up as a result of the decision because they will have to begin finding a new way to dispose of their trash.