New Jersey clean energy plan: “Burn more garbage”

Click here for PFPI’s letter on New Jersey’s Biomass Working Group Report

Burning trash to generate “green” energy in New Jersey and getting electricity ratepayers to subsidize it? Sounds like a plan that only the waste industry could love. But it’s New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan that proposes a new chapter in the state’s long and storied relationship with the waste industry. The plan recommends developing 900 MW of energy from “biomass and biofuels” – with most of the fuel coming from garbage, and all the green energy incentives coming from citizens.

Waste combustion is already rewarded with “Class II” Renewable Energy Credits in New Jersey, as opposed to the Class I credits granted to wind, solar, and yes, “biomass” energy from “sustainable” sources. But the waste-burning industry complains these incentives aren’t enough. And apparently, the Biomass Working Group (BWG) charged with providing input to New Jersey’s energy plan feels the industry’s pain – the BWG report calls for setting up a new system of incentives that bypasses the existing system of Renewable Energy Credits, so that waste burners can proliferate around the state. Resource availability shouldn’t be a problem, the report brags, because New Jersey-ites generate 50% more garbage than the US average: 6.7 lb per per person, per day. The rush to build garbage burners is naturally to be accompanied by the usual greasing of the skids by the state, or “permit streamlining”.

However, burning garbage isn’t going to get the state any closer to its legislatively mandated goal of reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  Burning of solid waste and biomass emits more CO2 per unit energy generated than fossil fuels; the “gasification” technology promoted by the report emits just as much CO2 as the traditional “mass burn” technology.

Burning garbage won’t clean up New Jersey’s air, either, which is legendary for its poor quality. The state has 21 counties that are in nonattainment for EPA’s 8-hr ozone standard, and 13 counties in nonattainment for particulate matter. However, you’d have to look a long time to find any discussion of greenhouse gas or pollutant emissions in the BWG report, which has mostly praise for waste combustion.

The push to further monetize waste-to-energy isn’t just happening in New Jersey. In New York, waste management company Covanta has petitioned to include garbage burning in the State’s renewable energy portfolio, a move vigorously opposed by environmental groups as wasteful, expensive, and polluting. All around the country, the waste industry is cashing in on “green energy” subsidies – with dramatic effects on total pollution emissions compared to the relatively small amount of energy produced from this inefficient technology.

A serious clean energy plan for New Jersey would focus on reducing and recycling waste, not sending it into the atmosphere as quickly as possible. If New Jersey wants to clean up its air, it must honestly and transparently acknowledge the carbon dioxide emissions from garbage and biomass incineration, keep incentives for trash and biomass burning out of its REC program, and reduce air emissions of particulate matter and ozone precursors. Otherwise, New Jersey citizens will end up subsidizing an expensive, long-lived, and highly polluting infrastructure that increases emissions and blocks opportunities for truly renewable, emission free energy.

Partnership for Policy Integrity