As published in the Record Journal Wednesday September 26, 2012
By Laurie Rich Salerno
WALLINGFORD – Ever wonder what happens to your trash when it leaves the curb? On Thursday, Oct. 4, residents will be able to tour Covanta’s Wallingford trash-to-energy facility and afterward ask questions of representatives from the company and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The idea for the event was sparked by a petition filed by resident Robert Gross to contest the DEEP’s approval of Covanta’s application to renew its solid waste permit. Gross cited resident concerns about smells and emissions violations that have since been addressed. The tour will be held at 4 p.m. at Covanta, 530 S. Cherry St., and the informational session will be held at6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
The Record-Journal was given a preview tour on Tuesday by the plant’s local and regional operators, who answered questions and gave an overview of operations at the Wallingford plant.
The Cherry Street facility began operating in 1989 under the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. New Jersey based Covanta bought it in 2010. Today the facility, equipped with three furnaces, burns 420 tons of trash each day from Wallingford, Meriden, Cheshire, North Haven and Hamden. The process generates 11 megawatts of energy, which is sold to the Connecticut Light & Power Co. That’s roughly enough to power 9,000 houses, according to Covanta literature.
Officials Tuesday stressed the environmental benefits of a trash-to-energy plant over depositing trash in landfills, and presented their continued efforts to support recycling.
“We’ve been doing green energy before people thought it was sexy,” said Cheryl Thibeault, business manager at the Wallingford site.
The site, staff say, produces energy equivalent to 100 tons of coal or 420 barrels of oil each day, reducing the need for either substance. Ninety percent of the trash it takes in becomes energy. The other 10 percent is ash, which is deposited in landfills. James Regan, communications manager for Covanta, said the company’s operations in some other countries use the ash in paving and other projects, and he’s hoping the U.S. will soon allow the same practices.
Waste company trucks roll in six days a week, stopping at a scale and then dropping off their loads of garbage in a warehouse-like room called the “tipping floor.” On Tuesday, the room, visible from Covanta’s offices through a pane of glass, was filled with about 2,500 tons of all manner of trash.
There was no scent of trash behind the layer of glass, and that’s because the plant both sprays a deodorizing formula and sucks air from the room into its processes so that it is burned with the trash.
Gross has said some residents have said they can smell trash emanating from the facility. Though the plant takes measures, Thibeault acknowledges that on a hot summer day, someone might smell a truck pulling in with contents that have been marinating.
Though it’s only open for deliveries six days a week, the plant processes waste 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. From the tipping floor, the trash is pushed into one of three graded furnaces, with higher temperatures the farther down each one sits; the temperature hits as high as 2,000 degrees.
The ash is collected below, and the hot air generated heats a boiler that sends steam that powers a generator that generates electricity that is transmitted to CL&P through an on-site transformer.
Air and particulates that are byproducts of the process are routed through other mechanisms that filter out unwanted substances before the final emissions are released as air and steam from a stack on the site.
A broken pipe in furnace 2 that was supposed to shoot a substance that leaches dioxins from the escaping emissions is what caused the plant’s 2010 DEEP violations. The company reported the problem after a compliance test showed the issue, and Covanta was fined $400,000.
The furnace was taken immediately offline and remedied, and emissions were not high enough to have had any effect on the health of nearby residents, Regan said.
“What happened in 2010 was unacceptable to us as a company,” Regan said. He said the company worked hard to ensure that the plant is now well under the amount allowed. It is also a site for new technology that is further decreasing dioxin emissions.
Business at the plant will increase in the next year, with the company adding trash from Newington, Madison, Guilford and Southbury.
Covanta staff say they’re looking forward to answering questions and concerns next week.
“‘Not in my backyard’ is real,” Regan said, and he and other staff hope they can help change negative perceptions of the plant.
Those interested in the tour before the hearing should call Thibeault at (203) 294-1649, ext. 3029, well in advance.