Regional landfill proposal stirs controversy
If and when Energy Extraction Partners, LLC submits an application to the state for its planned waste-to-energy plant at the regional landfill, at least two state permits would be required, along with a review process that could take a year, a state regulator says.
The plant, proposed for the landfill on Eskimo Hill Road in Stafford County, has generated intense public debate in recent weeks, because of a lack of information and complexities of its little-known pyrolysis technology in the United States.
In an interview, Thomas Faha, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Northern Regional Office in Woodbridge, said EEP outlined its proposal to the agency in early June.
That approach is standard, Faha said.
“It gives us an opportunity to give them early advice on what we might be seeking from them.”
But unlike other waste-to-energy projects approved by DEQ in recent years, one using pyrolysis has never been through the state’s regulatory process.
Records indicate “we don’t have any,” Faha (pronounced Fay) said.
That’s not to say there haven’t been other proposals.
“We’ve had maybe half a dozen meetings” with entities, he said, “that have proposed facilities very similar, on a large scale,” but none ever made it to actually filing an application.
Faha said EEP, an offshoot of Creative Energy Systems in Larkspur, Colo., did well in its presentation.
“It was a very credible first meeting.” Since the June meeting, there have been a few emails from the company.
“We gave them some advice, and they were doing some [air] testing.”
Faha said that if EEP does submit an application, it would be subject to “the full gamut of parameters” on air emissions.
“The example we gave them, and this doesn’t compare apples to apples,” Faha said, were Covanta’s Fairfax and Alexandria power plants. Furnaces at those plants incinerate municipal solid waste, generating electricity sold to Dominion Virginia Power.
Those plants, like the one proposed in Stafford, are in the Northern Virginia nonattainment area for federal clean air standards, which are more strict on emissions than other regions in the state.
Those plants have advanced scrubbers and air-pollution control equipment.
The pyrolysis process proposed by EEP uses high heat, with little oxygen, to decompose trash, including tires, to release gases that are recovered and burned to produce electricity. The waste is “cooked” in a closed system, but not incinerated.
The most common waste-to-energy plants by far in Virginia—including at the Stafford, King George and Fauquier landfills locally—recover methane gas to burn to produce energy.
So EEP is in uncharted territory when it comes to the Virginia regulatory process.
Since DEQ has never issued a permit for a pyrolysis-based operation, “We did our own quick research,” Faha said. That turned up in a permit issued a few years back by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for the Oneida Recovery Energy Project in Green Bay.
More recently, EEP’s parent company, Creative Energy Systems, proposed pyrolytic plants there and in Mason City Iowa. Neither project is in operation now.
The Mason City plan, in November 2011, prompted local government officials and residents there to pose questions and concerns similar to those raised here.
Joseph Yavorski, president and chief executive officer of Creative Energy Systems in Colorado, said in an email that the technology is viable, and he’s directed Stafford and Fredericksburg officials, along with skeptics here, to information on a pyrolysis-based plant in Avonmouth, England.
That plant, which opened last month, also uses scrap tires and trash in its process to produce 13 megawatts of electricity. Processed tire material allows for a more balanced source of heat, when mixed with municipal waste, according to industry reports.
Pyrolysis produces air emissions, along with waste ash and tar.
Faha said industrial operations are subject to Virginia air, waste and water permits, along with local oversight on matters such as erosion and sediment control.
Another consideration: The EEP plant would be subject to new regulations that DEQ is developing on renewable energy technologies, including landfill waste-to-energy combustion.
As of now, “This would require an air permit, for sure; a solid waste permit is likely,” Faha said, adding, “Of course, we would have to see the final design proposal.”
Faha said it’s hard to predict how long the application and review process would take because there’s no application yet.
He said that could take a year.
“And I would expect,” with the interest in the project to date, “that would trigger public meetings.”
TIRES RAISE A RED FLAG
The use of waste tires in Energy Extraction Partners’ proposed gas-extraction plant in Stafford County is among a host of concerns mentioned by area residents and some officials reviewing the plan.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a passenger-car tire is about three-quarters rubber, with some steel wire and polyester fiber. Whether tires are openly burned—or heated with other municipal waste under EEP’s plan to produce a gas that can be burned to make electricity—people take notice.
Piles of abandoned tires were common across Virginia until large, toxic fires in Roanoke and Lexington prompted an extensive cleanup effort.
In 1993, Virginia adopted a waste tire management plan to deal with the roughly 7 million tires disposed of each year. Virginia’s largest tire dump, with 5 million tires on 16 acres in Sealston in King George, was finally cleared in 1998.
Efforts more recently turned from removal to recycling. Scrap tires have been used as road material, highway sound barriers, for making playground equipment, and as a fuel for furnaces and other applications.
Residents can drop off limited numbers of tires free in most area localities for recycling. The R-Board charges $120 a ton for passenger tires for commercial haulers; $210 a ton for oversize tires.
EEP says it would use about 10 truckloads of tires per day.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431