Poughkeepsie Journal: State panel questions trash-plant discharge

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November 18, 2011

ALBANY
— A state panel has delayed a decision on a request to make a controversial form of energy production eligible for renewable-energy grants.

The state Public Service Commission didn’t act Thursday on a petition from New Jersey-based Covanta Energy Corp. as was expected, instead requesting more information from regulators.

Covanta’s request would make trash-burning power plants eligible for funds under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, a program begun in 2004 with a goal of generating 30 percent of the state’s power with renewable resources by 2015.

Covanta, which operates seven plants in New York, including the Dutchess County Resource Recovery Facility in Poughkeepsie, cites innovations in technology that have let the company cut its emissions steadily since 1990.

But the state Department of Environmental Conservation found the emissions from waste-to-energy plants still outpace those from coal-burning plants, regarded as one of the dirtiest fossil fuels.

The vote will be put off “until further notice,” said Patricia Acampora, one of five PSC commissioners. “I think given the questions we’ve raised (Thursday) and the information we need to receive, I would like to bring this item up at another time once we have the ability to digest the information that we do receive.”

The PSC had questions for an administrative law judge about how the emissions from the garbage-burning plants stack up against those from biomass and landfill gas plants, which are in the renewable program.

Environmentalists, who this week had called on the PSC to reject the company’s petition, weren’t pleased by the inaction. In a statement, 13 environmental and health groups including the American Lung Association and Sierra Club blasted Thursday’s decision to delay action.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard awards about $250 million a year via competitive bidding to projects that produce renewable energy, such as solar and wind. But Covanta officials said trash-burning plants are environmentally friendly and deal with the issue of waste, and are preferable to landfills.

The company says it is not seeking funding for existing facilities, but looks to be in the program for future projects. With biomass and landfill projects part of the portfolio, energy-from-waste also belongs, company officials said. Several states include trash-burning power in their renewable portfolio.