Throwing good money after bad at Taylor Biomass in Orange County, NY

We’ve heard a lot lately about the collapse of California solar panel maker Solyndra and the failure of the Department of Energy to do due diligence when it granted the company $535 million in guaranteed loans. The federal monies granted to Solyndra are now up in smoke leaving taxpayers with the check.

We’re hopeful there might be at least one good outcome from this debacle – perhaps DOE will take a closer look at the kinds of “green energy” companies it supports. We refer, of course, to biomass.

Unfortunately, scrutiny may be coming too late to stop what looks like an 11th hour loan guarantee from DOE’s program to Taylor Biomass Energy, a 20-MW garbage and wood biomass gasification plant in Montgomery, NY. The project, which appears to be still in the running for a $100 million loan guarantee from the waning days of the DOE program, is a trash burner, pure and simple, with emissions to match.

DOE’s loans are intended to support development of “innovative and advanced clean technologies“. In this case, we’re wondering what’s so innovative, advanced, and clean about a garbage burner. “Gasification”, the waste incineration technology to be used at the facility, basically combusts garbage and wood at low oxygen, then skims off the gas to drive a gas-powered turbine. But burning that gas produces pollution, and the gasification process itself creates a lot of char by-products, which are then combusted – creating typical pollution and ash that you’d see from any other wood-burner.

Treating this technology as “carbon neutral” when it pumps out more CO2 per unit energy generated than a coal plant is also a slap in the face to consumers and taxpayers who assume that “clean energy” loans will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Taylor will “gasify” 300 tons per day of garbage and construction and demolition waste per day, emitting particulate matter and smog-forming chemicals (more than 50 tons per year of nitrogen oxides, alone). Orange County, where Taylor Biomass will be located, is already rated by EPA as being in “nonattainment” for air pollution, with levels of fine particulate matter and ground level ozone, two pollutants linked to lung disease, cancer, asthma, and heart disease, exceeding EPA’s health standards.

Located near homes and schools, Taylor will also emit a cocktail of heavy metals like lead, arsenic, chromium and cadmium, as well as dioxin, one of the most deadly substances known to man. Why so much pollution out the stack? Because they’ll be burning garbage, including plastics – and also, construction and demolition debris, which contains wood that’s been pressure-treated with a cocktail of copper, chromium, and arsenic (the facility will test for metals contamination in its feedstock once a month – there, don’t you feel better?). No pollution control technology can capture 100% of contaminants, and no “sorting procedure” can eliminate contaminated wood from the fuel stream, as tests have demonstrated (see report on the inadequacies of C&D sorting for a waste-burner proposed in Massachusetts).

The latest “bump in the road” for the project is that the Taylor project’s local permits have been ruled illegal by a judge that found proper reviews had not been conducted, but construction on the plant is continuing in the meantime.  Another snag is that Orange county doesn’t want to be locked into sending its garbage to the facility for the next 20 years (incinerators need fuel… otherwise they don’t operate and make money. So woe betide the community that finds a cheaper or more environmentally friendly option for disposal).

Taylor is in a hurry to get built. Having the project underway means it can qualify not only for the loan guarantee, but also for a 30% reimbursement of the $160 million development costs (more Stimulus money, also courtesy of the American Taxpayer) – a program for which the facility appears to have applied. Just to be clear – this $48 million gift will be in addition to the $100 million loan guarantee.

Orange County and Montgomery administrators, to say nothing of the DOE loan program administrators, may want to take a look at another burg that pinned their hopes on a garbage incinerator – Harrisburg, PA, where a botched project burned through the money faster than the trash, leaving the city in bankruptcy as of this month.

Speaking of the Taylor project, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) claims that the plant will generate energy while “reducing trash and producing no pollution…all the while creating jobs and badly needed economic activity”. “No pollution”? From where we sit, it looks like the biggest thing this facility is going to generate is pollution… while burning through a lot taxpayer money.  Buyer beware.

Partnership for Policy Integrity