Today's power-plant scoundrels
posted at 2/12/2012 8:01 PM EST
Current power-plant scoundrels call themselves "waste to energy," but the federal and state name for them is "municipal waste combustor"--generating electricity by burning refuse. Most in Massachusetts opened during the 1980s: five plants classed by U.S. EPA as "large" and two classed as "small."
Plant name and location Heat, 2007 Operator, 2011
---------------------------------- -------------- -------------------------
SEMASS, Rochester 10.7 TBtu Covanta
Ogden Martin, Haverhill 6.0 TBtu Covanta
Wheelabrator, Millbury 5.2 TBtu Waste Management
Wheelabrator, Saugus 4.6 TBtu Waste Management
Wheelabrator, N. Andover 4.0 TBtu Waste Management
Pioneer Valley, Agawam 0.5 TBtu Covanta
Vicon, Pittsfield N/A Covanta
Vicon Pittsfield is primarily a steam plant serving a paper mill, rather than an electricity generating plant. [ eGrid Database, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for operations in 2000, 2004 and 2007, at http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/egrid/index.html ]
Under state requirements, between 2002 and 2008 the municipal waste combustors cleaned up their mercury emissions but did little about other types of air pollution. As other power-plants reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, the shares emitted by the municipal waste combustors grew, until they became the largest sources of both nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide among Massachusetts power-plants:
Shares by year 2007 2004 2000
Power generation 4% 4% 5%
Nitrogen oxides 52% 20% 10%
Sulfur dioxide 39% 1% 1%
While sulfur dioxide pollution in Massachusetts has been much reduced, Massachusetts barely meets the ozone standard, so nitrogen oxides emitted by municipal waste combustors remain a substantial hazard. Municipal waste combustors in the state have controls to reduce nitrogen oxides, but they are ineffective, compared with current operations at most of the state's other power-plants.
In contrast to stronger standards for conventional power-plants and boilers, U.S. EPA lags in addressing pollution from municipal waste combustors. Most current standards were issued by the Clinton administration in 1995. Emission limits were slightly reduced by the Walker Bush administration in 2006. The EPA limit for nitrogen oxides at most Massachusetts plants is 230 ppmv in stack gases, referenced to 7 percent oxygen. The state has an erratic record with its permits, allowing daily emission limits from 192 to 250 ppmv.
Compared with state-of-the-art combustion, those are incredibly filthy burners. Technology is now achieving nitrogen oxide emissions of less than 50 ppmv for coal and 10 ppmv for natural gas. The most effective techniques, staged combustion and selective catalytic reduction, are not used by municipal waste combustors, but they have been proven to work, as a "Maximum Available Control Technology" that is specified by law.
[ Richard F. Abrams and Robert Faia, Selective catalytic reduction system to reduce NOx emissions from boilers, Proceedings of the 17th Annual North American Waste-to-Energy Conference, 2009, at http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/wtert/sofos/nawtec/nawtec17/nawtec17-2363.pdf ]