May They Rest in Peace

Columns - Critical Thinking

Reflecting back on the contributions of two industry icons.

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August 4, 2016
Harvey W. Gershman

Two milestones passed recently: another waste-to-energy (WTE) facility closing and the death of an industry icon. I have soft spots in my heart for both.

The Harford County, Maryland, WTE facility was planned and developed through the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority (NMWDA) starting in 1988. GBB did the initial feasibility study and supported the procurement/contracting process leading to the implementation with the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) as its steam customer.

The facility connected to APG’s central steam plant supplying medium pressure steam for heating, cooling and process use. The three-line modular incinerator-waste heat boiler plant was retrofitted in 2001 to meet Clean Air Act requirements. Over the years, more than 3.5 million tons were disposed while the county grew its recycling program to a more than 50 percent recycling rate in 2011.

Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Waste Reduction Model, this facility has saved 1.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents by combusting materials instead using fossil fuels and by not landfilling the waste. APG once considered having the NMWDA/county replace this facility with a Wheelabrator mass-burn facility, but abandoned the idea in 2006 and pursued a combined heat and power facility, fueled by natural gas, to replace the supply from WTE and its aging boiler house.

This change was made apparently contrary to two federal policies: 1. cooperate with local governments on sourcing supplies of services, and 2. pursue renewable energy supplies.

Now the county has an arrangement with Baltimore County allowing haulers to deliver Harford-generated waste to Baltimore County’s waste management complex, where the waste is currently landfilled. Baltimore County and NMWDA initiated a procurement process for the development of a mixed waste processing facility. The economics may be acceptable but the environmental impact is not.

As for the industry icon, I first met Pat Mahoney when his firm, the Albany, New York-headquartered Energy Answers, was responding to a town of Babylon, New York, procurement that GBB was supporting. Even though his firm wasn’t selected, it was the beginning of a respectful relationship. Pat was an industry leader who practiced what he preached: recovery of materials and energy and zero waste to landfill as much as possible. Energy Answers went on to build sound projects with its particular approach to processing for materials recovery, fuel production and conversion.

Its flagship project on Cape Cod has processed 23 million tons post-recycled waste. Since 1988, displacing coal to produce the power generated by converting the waste fuel and not having to landfill the materials and fuel used has saved 23 million tons of GHG CO2 equivalents.

Energy Answers also acquired operating service responsibilities at WTE plants in Pittsfield and Agawam, Massachusetts, while working to develop other projects in Maryland and Puerto Rico.

Join me in thanking each for their contributions to improving the environment.

Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc. (GBB), www.gbbinc.com, is an international solid waste management consulting firm that helps public and private sector organizations craft practical, customized and technically sound solutions for complex solid waste management challenges.

Inspiration and research assistance provided by Eric Weiss, consultant I.