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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Waste-to-Energy: “Green Energy” and “Renewable Energy”

Jan H. Gardner

As the Frederick County Commissioners continue the dialogue on developing a long- term integrated strategy for managing the county’s solid waste stream, environmental impacts associated with each option and their impact on global warming and the community’s carbon footprint enter into the discussion. There is clear agreement that waste prevention, recycling programs, and other resource recovery programs are the first steps to responsibly managing and reducing environmental impacts associated with municipal solid waste. As solid waste disposal becomes more sophisticated, local governments have looked for options to reduce green house gas emissions. The most significant and challenging component of the debate rests with how to best manage the percentage of the solid waste stream that requires disposal in an environmentally sensitive manner.

Is the energy produced from waste-to-energy facilities “green energy”? In March 2001, Governor Parris Glendening issued an executive order on Energy Efficiency and Green Buildings (Executive Order 01-01-2001- 02). “ For purposes of this Executive Order, “Green Energy” is defined as energy generated from the wind, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, biomass, landfill gas, and the combustion of municipal solid waste.” One of the purposes of the executive order was to establish a goal of purchasing 6% of the energy used for state buildings from “Green Energy” sources. Energy produced by waste-to-energy facilities has been considered “Green Energy” by the State of Maryland since 2001.

The State of Maryland considers the energy generated from waste-to-energy facilities as renewable energy. The owners of waste-to-energy facilities benefit from the sale of renewable energy credits (RECs). There is an active market for RECs. RECs are often purchased by utilities or private businesses to met corporate climate change goals. The energy from waste-to-energy is part of the state and region’s renewable energy portfolio. If Frederick County proceeds with a waste-to-energy facility, the county will benefit from the sale of renewable energy credits, as Montgomery County does today.

Recently, I read the National Capital Region: Climate Change Report (July 9, 2008/Draft) prepared by a steering committee for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (WASHCOG). Frederick County and the City of Frederick are members of WASHCOG. WASHCOG created a regional climate change initiative by resolution in 2007 “recognizing that failure to reduce greenhouse gases can undermine the quality of life in our region and its economic and environmental sustainability.” The primary purpose of this report is to quantify the regional greenhouse gas inventory, establish regional greenhouse gas reduction targets, and establish action steps. A relatively small section of the report speaks to local government solid waste management programs. Several sections make comments regarding waste-to-energy facilities and their role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Following are several quotes from the report:

“One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the National Capital Region is to use resources more wisely and to reduce the demand for new products through recycling. In the past twenty years, local governments have progressed from simple landfill disposal and incineration of municipal solid waste to options that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These strategies, such as recycling programs, waste reduction programs, waste-to-energy plants, and landfill gas capture, result in energy savings.”


“For waste that must be disposed, the region has three waste-to-energy plants and five landfills with methane recovery for energy systems. Studies done using the U.S. EPA Decision Support Tool have determined: electricity produced by waste-to-energy plants displaces power produced from traditional fossil-fuel power plants resulting in a net savings in the emissions of carbon dioxide; metals separated from waste at the plants for recycling result in a significant savings in energy and greenhouse gas emissions due to a reduced need to mine virgin materials; and when waste is processed at a waste-to-energy plant instead of a landfill, methane emissions from the landfill are avoided.”

WASHCOG’s Climate Change Steering Committee also issued a report in February 2008: National Capital Region: Best Practices and Policies to Reduce Greenhouse Gases that included similar comments as well as some “fun facts”.

“Did You Know?”

“Nationally, producing electricity in waste combustion facilities avoids 5 Million Metric Tons of Carbon Equivalent (MMTCE) that otherwise would have been produced by fossil fuel electrical energy generation and avoids 6 MMTCE of greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced if trash were landfilled.” 5 MMTCE is the equivalent of taking over 1 million cars off the road!

In April 2007, in celebration of Earth Day, the Frederick County Commissioners adopted the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. This agreement is currently under consideration by several of Frederick County’s municipalities. This agreement expresses a jurisdictions’ commitment to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A section of the agreement is specific to waste-to-energy and reads as follows:

“Increase the use of clean, alternative energy by, for example, investing in “green tags”, advocating for the development of renewable energy resources, recovering landfill methane for energy production, and supporting the use of waste-to-energy technology.”

These examples demonstrate support for waste-to-energy as a renewable energy source and an environmentally friendly and greenhouse gas reducing alternative. Certainly, there are those who disagree with these conclusions.

The Frederick County Commissioners requested RTI International to develop a model and report to provide a detailed and quantitative understanding of the relationships and tradeoffs between landfill and WTE alternatives for municipal solid waste remaining after recycling, composting and resource recovery. The model and software used by RTI to complete this analysis was developed by RTI in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development to assist communities in analyzing the full costs and life cycle environmental aspects of alternatives for municipal solid waste management. This software has undergone extensive peer review and is regarded as a cutting edge software tool. The methodology used to calculate the energy and environmental results are built on the principles of Life Cycle Assessment. The Life Cycle Assessment is a type of systems analysis that accounts for the complete set of upstream and downstream (cradle to grave) analysis. The technique examines the inputs and outputs of every stage of the life cycle from the extraction of raw materials, through the manufacturing, distribution, use/reuse, and waste management. The Life Cycle Assessment tracks the energy and environmental aspects associated with all stages of waste management from collection, transfer, materials recovery, treatment and final disposal. (Footnote – This description is directly from the RTI report dated July 28, 2008)

The RTI report evaluates and compares the net cost, net energy consumption, and emissions of criteria air pollutants, specifically particulate matter (PM), sulfur oxides
(SO x), nitrogen oxides (NO x), carbon monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), and carbon emissions.
The results of this analysis are useful in assisting the County Commissioners in identifying the potential cost and environmental implications for post-recovery municipal solid waste management and demonstrate the trade-offs between options.

On a cost basis, the local landfill and WTE alternatives are comparable and less expensive than out-of-state landfill alternatives. On an environmental basis, it appears that the higher materials and energy recovery associated with WTE creates significant environmental benefits as compared to the landfill alternatives, both a local landfill and use of out-of-state landfills. On all criteria air pollutants, the WTE strategy has a larger offset than either landfill option. On a greenhouse gas basis, the WTE strategy reduces/avoids approximately 35,000 to 45,000 MTCE per year as compared to landfill strategies. The greater the level of recycling and energy recovery, the lower the generation of CO emissions. The WTE strategy exhibits the greatest level of net offset for CO emissions.

The County Commissioners also asked for sensitivity analysis for key parameters, including an analysis of truck versus rail haul for out-of-state landfill disposal; analysis of changing electrical energy grid mix of fuels over time; and an analysis of increasing recycling rates over time, including increased recycling and composting. The results show that rail haul is generally more cost and energy efficient, though on a greenhouse gas basis, the scenarios are not significantly different. The sensitivity analysis on changing the mix of fuels in the grid over time reflect that, in general, the amount of energy consumed remains the same and on a greenhouse gas basis there is no significant impact. If coal or natural gas energy was replaced by alternative energy sources such as solar or wind, then the impact would be more significant. The sensitivity analysis of increasing recycling and organic composting from the existing 37% to 60% over time, shows a negative energy consumption trend due to offset of virgin material production and related energy savings as well as a negative carbon emission trend. The recycling and WTE scenario results in a greater net energy savings than the recycling and landfill scenario due to the production of electricity and associated offset of electricity produced by fossil fuels in the utility sector. The recycling and WTE scenario results in a greater net carbon emission savings than the recycling and landfill scenario due to the production of electricity and the associated offset of electricity produced by fossil fuels in the utility sector as well as the avoidance of landfill gas produced.

The complete results of the RTI reports can be found on my section of the county web page at then “Government”, then “County Commissioners”, then “Jan Gardner” or . The reports and charts are easy to read.


In conclusion, the County Commissioners are evaluating and comparing the costs and environmental aspects of our long-term solid waste alternatives after expanding recycling, composting and resource recovery efforts with a goal of recycling or diverting 60% of our solid waste stream. The State of Maryland has decided that the energy from waste-to-energy is renewable and provides renewable energy credits. Energy from waste-to-energy is defined as “Green Energy” from a number of reputable and independent sources. When comparing a waste-to-energy facility to a landfill, the impacts on the environment and greenhouse gas are favorable to waste-to-energy.

Jan Gardner is President of the Frederick County, Maryland Board of Commissioners


sneffik said...

The issue of a Waste-to-Energy facility has Frederick County split. However, I do not feel that anyone has mentioned gasification as an option. PLEASE, go to and check out how gasification would be a MUCH better option for Frederick County. If you have any questions feel free to email me at

John De Reggi said...

Hey Stephanie and Mr. Wenschhof

I find it strange Frederick County would not listen to me when I susjested just that. I was well recieved by Mongomery County, the Maryland Senate and the United States Senate. My collegues were even on the podium at the inaguartion. Still so far no response from Frederick County. Municiplal Solid Waste Plasma Arc Gasification can be very efficient abolishing landfills producing power with zero emissions (carbon negative actually)especially when combined with RenTechs Fischer - Tropsch process making biofuels (carbon neutral)too. Mongomery County originally sent me to help Frederick and is currently working with the Solena Group to better handle their MSW and provide them with 28 million gallons of biodiesel. If you use the heat byproduct and recyclables In many cases we can even help with financing.

My gasification solutions are really far better than what is being considered by Jan Gardner and the Commission. I would like to help.

I can still be reached to discuss these options at my home office (301)540-6691 or by email