Portland, OR rules out WTE as Waste Management contract expiration looms
- The Metro Council of the Portland, OR metropolitan area decided earlier this week to rule out sending waste to a Covanta-operated waste-to-energy (WTE) facility due to high costs, according to a press release.
- Metro currently has a contract with Waste Management that requires 90% of the area's wet garbage be sent to a Waste Management landfill. That contract expires in 2019.
- Since January 2016, city staff has explored options for handling waste once the contract expires, at the directive of the council. In addition to WTE, they've been researching advanced material recovery to divert more recyclable waste from landfills.
It's a complicated time, nationwide, for WTE — and this decision from Portland is an almost perfect example of that. Shortly after President Trump announced his intent to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, several groups, including waste and recycling industry officials, defended their environmental commitments. The U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a cities-driven plan to mitigate damage from climate change; however, that plan does not recognize WTE as a form of "renewable energy," which led to pushback from some industry advocates.
There are fewer than 80 WTE facilities operating in the U.S. and there are active campaigns in states including Maryland and Massachusetts to shut down incinerators, citing environmental and health concerns. Between cheap energy coming from natural gas and relatively low landfill tipping fees, it may be a challenge for local governments to consider new WTE plants a worthwhile investment.
At the same time, Covanta, a major WTE operator in the U.S., posted a stronger Q2 this year than in 2016 and state action, like in Connecticut, has encouraged WTE operation. While it appears that energy production from waste is trending toward organics, it is likely too soon to consider WTE a helpless cause, especially as companies look to Europe for expansion.
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