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City Mulls Burning Garbage in New Eco-Friendly Plan

By DNAinfo Staff on April 21, 2011 8:12am  | Updated on April 21, 2011 2:00pm

Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the updated PlaNYC in Harlem Thursday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the updated PlaNYC in Harlem Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to install solar panels over old garbage dumps and explore a controversial proposal to burn waste to create energy as part of an updated "PlaNYC" environmental agenda released in Harlem Thursday.

The updated plan comes four years after the plan's original launch, which set a host of green-minded goals, including hundreds of miles of new bike lanes, public plazas in every neighborhood, 1 million trees by 2017, and a reduction in the city's carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. It also included the failed congestion pricing plan.

The administration said that over 97 percent of the 127 initiatives proposed by the original plan had been launched within a year of its release. The mayor is required to update the plan every four years by law.

"In four short years we’ve come an incredibly long way towards our goal. But now we’re going to pick up the pace," he said.

The updated PlaNYC includes 132 new initiatives to make the city greener, including the plan to explore so-called "waste-to-energy" facilities, a process in which plants convert garbage to energy, often by burning it.

The plan also includes a landmark plan to ban No. 4 and No. 6 heating oils, which are used in hundreds of buildings throughout Manhattan, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. New city rules issued Thursday aim to eliminate all No. 6 heating oil by 2015 and all No. 4 heating oil by 2030.

The mayor described the ban on the oils, which produces more pollution than all the cars and trucks on the road combined, as "the single biggest step to save lives" since the city's indoor smoking ban.

The mayor also promised the "biggest green infrastructure grant program" in the nation to help improve the city's waterways, as well as a host of smaller-scale projects including building more green roofs on city schools, new farmers markets and hundreds of new community gardens at schools, public housing complexes and other sites.

The solar panel plan, announced ahead of the speech, would construct new solar power plants on top of old city landfills, including Fresh Kills, on Staten Island, and Fountain Avenue, in Brooklyn.

The mayor's office believes the plants could generate up to 50 megawatts of power — enough to power up to 2,000 homes — to supplement dirtier sources during hot summer peaks.

The mayor also announced a new not-for-profit Energy Efficiency Corporation that will operate a new loan program for businesses to go green.

The corporation, which will be supported by nearly $40 million in federal Recovery Act funds, is intended to help companies cover the initial costs of investing in green infrastructure, which can be a burden, even if the work saves them money down the line.

While many celebrated the plan's renewed environmental focus, there was also deep concern from some about the mayor's decision to pursue waste-to-energy facilities and their potential impact.

"I have concerns about that and a lot of unanswered questions," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is most concerned about "gasification," which many have described as glorified garbage incinerators.

Quinn wondered where the facilities might be placed and questioned their potenial impact on neighborhoods and air quality.

"I'm not sure we'll ever end up at a place where it'd be OK, but there has to be a lot more conversation," she said.

The the city also announced Thursday that it has reached an agreement to restore funding for three Manhattan-based waste transfer stations whose construction had been placed in jeopardy by the mayor's preliminary budget plan.

Gavin Kearney, director of environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, praised the mayor's reversal, as well as the renewed environmental focus.

"The plan as a whole is a huge accomplishment," said Kearney, who said the new transfer stations will have major benefits for those living in Upper Manhattan along busy garbage truck routes.