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City Moves Forward with Efforts to Turn Garbage into Energy

By Jill Colvin | March 7, 2012 1:34pm
The city is considering new options for getting rid of the city's waste.
The city is considering new options for getting rid of the city's waste.
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MANHATTAN — The city is moving forward with a controversial proposal to convert garbage into energy.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg put out a call Tuesday for proposals to build a “state of the art conversion technology facility" that would convert solid waste into power.

While proponents say the technology has the potential to reduce pressure on local landfills, critics say previous efforts have been fraught with problems and are often nothing more than glorified incinerators.

“These aren’t new technologies. They’re newer version of incineration,” said Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate at the New York Public Interest Research Group, one of 59 groups to send a letter urging the city not to consider anything that could have detrimental environmental impact.

"These are new technologies that haven't been proven to work," Haight said, citing leaks, explosions and other environmental damage.

The city's proposal asks private firms to submit plans for a pilot plant to be built in or within 80 miles of the city and would process as much as 450 tons of waste per day. Instead of helping to build the facility, the city would pay operators a per-ton fee.

Officials insist that they are interested only in “the cleanest and latest waste-to-energy technologies” and specifically bar incineration plants in their call.

Among the technologies included in the city's request were gasification, hydrolysis and anaerobic digestion — the latter which of Haight said the group supports.

“We are using the most comprehensive sustainability program in the nation to green our city, but we have to go further,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “This project will help us determine if some of that waste can be converted to safe, clean energy to meet the City’s growing power needs."

The city already converts some of its sewage into energy that powers part of the treatment process, said Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway, who stressed that “any proposal will have to pass rigorous environmental and community scrutiny to move forward.” 

The proposal is part of a larger effort by the city to double the amount of waste diverted from city landfills by 2017.

The city currently generates approximately 10,000 tons of waste every day, most of which is hauled by truck to landfills outside the city.

Proposals for the new plant are due by June 5, 2012.