Connecticut WTE facility stuck with thousands of tons after double turbine failure
- The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority's (MIRA) waste-to-energy facility in Hartford, Connecticut has been down since both turbines broke on Nov. 5. An estimated 20,000 tons of waste are now being stored indoors. Pre-processed waste is also in outdoor containers, in violation of state permits, according to the Hartford Courant.
- Hartford's mayor declined to temporarily reopen a closed landfill, as reported by WTNH. Manchester, home to the state's last operating landfill, also declined to help, according to the Journal Inquirer. As a result, MIRA has been exporting to New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
- MIRA estimates one turbine will be back from St. Louis for repairs next week, allowing for partial operations by the end of January. Officials expect to recoup at least some of the higher disposal costs via insurance claims, and say reserve funds are adequate in the meantime.
MIRA is a quasi-public agency that services an estimated 70 municipalities throughout the state via the WTE facility, a MRF and a network of transfer stations. Beyond affecting member communities, this first-of-its-kind occurrence has put a further strain on local disposal capacity as outside tonnage from commercial or non-member sources is now being turned away.
Finding a destination for members has been hard enough. Less then half of what MIRA has taken in since the turbine failure has been exported, and all of it is moving at a much higher cost. Overall disposal capacity is about as tight as it's ever been in the Northeast, with rising costs as a result. Various estimates in 2018 ranked Northeast tip fees among the highest in the country — if not the highest — due to an increasingly limited list of options.
Connecticut and Massachusetts haven't approved any new landfill or WTE capacity in years and show little indication of doing so. Vermont and Rhode Island are both down to one landfill each. New York still has notable capacity upstate, but pricing is competitive due to preexisting municipal contracts and scarce capacity elsewhere. As shown by where MIRA is finding a home for all of the waylaid waste, it has become increasingly common for Northeast states to export farther distances to Pennsylvania and Virginia, as well as Ohio and beyond.
The fact that a mechanical failure of this scale is possible at this 30-plus-year old facility — one of multiple around that age in the Northeast — shows how precarious the regional situation has become. Even if states make progress on their respective recycling targets (Connecticut is shooting for a 60% diversion rate by 2024), they will still need disposal options for the foreseeable future.
In recognition of MIRA's place in the state's infrastructure, DEEP has been working with the authority for years to redevelop the Hartford facility. A project team was selected in Jan. 2018 with plans for an integrated concept that would increase recycling rates via organics processing and other technologies; however, progress has been slow in the months since.
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