Wheelabrator Baltimore waste-to-energy facility is suing Baltimore County for breaching its waste disposal contract, in which the county agreed to deliver a minimum of 215,000 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year to the facility through 2021 in exchange for a reduced disposal price.
In 2018, the county began seeking outside waste disposal bids for all residential waste, including the waste the county was delivering to Wheelabrator. The county reduced the volumes of MSW delivered to the facility to 2,220 tons in 2019.
The failure to deliver the guaranteed annual tonnage led the facility to file a lawsuit Thursday in the Baltimore County Circuit Court. Wheelabrator claims the contract breach cost the facility an excess of $32 million in damages.
“We regret that multiple attempts to resolve this issue through good-faith negotiations, including a cost reduction that would have saved Baltimore County more than $14 million over the remaining term of our contract, have been unsuccessful," states Wheelbrator spokesperson Michelle Nadeau.
Under the original agreement, Baltimore County signed a contract in 2011, guaranteeing to send 215,000 tons of waste per year to the facility in exchange for disposal price reductions.
According to the lawsuit, the county began demanding Wheelabrator lower the price per ton of waste. The county in 2017 informed the facility that it was modifying its waste disposal contract with another contractor and asked the facility to match the price. The county then told the facility it would no longer deliver waste to the facility.
"We continue to believe it is in both parties’ interest to resolve this matter amicably," Nadeau says. "The damages the county will incur for failure to deliver the waste guaranteed to be delivered by it in the contract are more than $32 million. We are confident the court will find in our favor, unnecessarily costing Baltimore County taxpayers as much as $46 million in total contract savings and damages.”
The lawsuit follows a campaign by Clean Air Baltimore against the facility, which says Wheelabrator is the largest air polluter in the city. Citing the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory database, the group says the incinerator is responsible for 36 percent of all industrial air pollution in Baltimore.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and city council earlier this year also voted to set strict air quality standards for the incinerator, which would require air monitoring equipment. Wheelabrator said if the city’s new requirements were passed, the facility would be forced to stop operations.
Wheelabrator processes 2,250 tons of MSW per day and generates power for more than 40,000 Maryland homes and provides steam to 225 businesses in downtown Baltimore.
In response to the recent backlash, the 30-year-old facility launched a website, GetTheFactsBmore.com, which highlights waste-to-energy solutions, as well as other waste management options, such a landfilling the waste, if the facility were to shut down.