(3/09) Hello Citizens of Emmitsburg. Let me start by congratulating Mike Hillman for putting new life into the Chronicle. Itís great to have someone local provide local coverage. Itís not an easy task they are undertaking and I hope you, to the extent you can, help them with this endeavor. I was asked if I
would like to contribute an article, any article, without limitations as to subject matter and the length not to exceed one thousand words (if youíve been an observer of county politics most of you will know that I donít generally use up a lot of words).
There is no shortage of topics I could write about, some that I considered but ruled out are: impacts of illegal immigration on Frederick County, the upcoming FY 2010 budget, transportation issues, the politics of fire and rescue, etc. My selection is the hot topic of the day: waste-to-energy (WTE). We have a major solid
waste problem in Frederick County.
Our landfill, if we werenít diverting most of our trash 192 miles one-way to a landfill in Virginia, would be filled up in two years. Last year we spent over $18 million to long-haul our trash into somebody elseís backyard and make it their problem. The county is looking for at least a 50-year solution to our mounting solid
waste problem. The appropriate-sized site for a new landfill, the alternative to WTE, is between 800 Ė 1,200 acres.
For those familiar with The Villages of Urbana, the entirety of that new town is 1,200 acres. Picture all of that land as a landfill. In the last issue of the Chronicle you read from Commissioner Hagen about our plans to divert as much as we can from the landfill with the implementation of single stream recycling. Even
increasing our recycling rate from the current 40% (approximately) to 60% by 2024 will leave hundreds of tons of trash to dispose of, daily.
A modern waste-to-energy plant is a tightly regulated power plant that is fueled by garbage, rather than coal, oil or nuclear energy. The garbage burns to create steam in a boiler, the steam turns a turbine, and the turbine puts electricity into the grid. The air emissions are more tightly regulated than the emissions from
a coal-fueled power plant.
The proposal is for a plant capable of processing 1,500 tons of trash per day. Frederick is building 900 tons of capacity for itself, and Carroll County is building 600 tons of capacity for itself at the same site. Carroll is a financial partner and will be a 40 percent partner in the use of the facility. The price tag for
the facility will be up to $527 million, probably less. Frederick Countyís share will be about $316 million and the revenue bonds to pay for this will be repaid over a twenty year period.
This works out to about $15 million per year for Frederick County, and then there are the operating expenses. The bond repayments and operating expenses will be paid by a combination of revenue sources, including electricity sales, tipping fees at the landfill, and the System Benefit Charge on county tax bills.
As host county, the contract being considered includes a rebate for Frederick County on the electricity sales that can be used to offset the expenses of our recycling programs or help to lower tipping fees. There will be enough electricity generated and added to the grid to power approximately 60,000 homes (Frederick County
has about 84,000 homes).
The waste-to-energy opponents have generally argued against this project based on the following concerns: perceived health impacts, costs of the project, location of the facility, traffic issues. Letís take them one by one. Over the past two years I have asked the opponents and I have done my own research on any, not
perceived, ill health effects of WTE.
There are over 800 of these facilities in operation worldwide, including about 90 in the U.S. Cities with WTE include Honolulu, Hawaii and Paris, France. WTE plants have been in operation for decades and if there were studies to support negative health impacts I havenít seen them or been provided any. Costs: I touched on
those above. If this plant is running at full capacity at the start of operations (at least 5 years from the date we approve such a facility) then this project makes financial sense.
If the plant is underutilized and not running at capacity, like most plants, the finances do not work. We will be looking to augment the two countiesí trash with additional input from other surrounding counties until we have enough of our own to provide maximum efficiency.
Location and traffic issues are the most difficult obstacles. If itís a rural site, folks object; and if itís an industrial site, folks object. There is not an easy solution to this problem. A WTE facility needs access to water (effluent) for cooling and must also be connected easily to the power grid. Most of the sites
where this is possible are in the southern to central part of the county.
As to traffic, currently 40 semi-tractor trailers criss-cross the county six days a week hauling our trash to the landfill in Virginia. These trucks hit the road after all the local and municipal haulers have made their trips to the transfer station located at the current landfill and dumped their loads. There will not be
an appreciable difference in the truck traffic currently in operation.
The decision to go with WTE should have been made twenty years ago. The decision to support WTE is not easy. Each commissioner has done extensive research and wants to make a decision that is best, long-term, for the residents of Frederick County. Folks who are opposed to WTE have threatened non-support in future elections
if we go this route.
believe WTE is the best option among lousy options. Contrary to what some would have you believe, solving our waste disposal issues with WTE is real leadership.
Read other articles from Frederick County Commissioners