Carroll should continue as partner with Frederick in waste-to-energy facility
Carroll County is approaching decision time on whether it will remain a partner with Frederick County in building a waste-to-energy facility in Frederick County that would not only dispose of waste for both jurisdictions, but also generate electricity in the process.
Years ago, the facility was recommended as a viable long-term solution to the county's waste disposal problem by the county's Department of Public Works, and was approved by the sitting commissioners.
Carroll County subsequently entered into an agreement with Frederick County to build the facility, and a final decision on whether to proceed with the project is to be made after the project's financials are updated in 2012.
Frederick County is committed to proceed, and if Carroll decides not to do so, it would have to find a jurisdiction to replace it as a partner — or pay a hefty penalty in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
Carroll County currently trucks the vast majority of its waste to out-of-state landfills and pays "tipping fees" at the landfills for the privilege of dumping its waste there. The county has no control over the fees it pays, which are subject to market fluctuations.
In addition, at some time in the future, the landfills it is using could decide not to accept any more out-of-state trash, in which case the county would have to find new dumping sites.
So as part of its initial decision-making process on whether to partner with Frederick, Carroll compared the projected costs of building and using a waste-to-energy plant located in Frederick and the projected costs of continuing to truck its trash to out-of-state landfills.
The comparison showed that Carroll would save up to $230 million during the first 30 years after it had built and begun to use a waste-to-energy plant.
That's about $4,000 per Carroll County household. The projections appear to be completely reliable. Frederick County had an independent financial analyst check the calculation of its projected savings on the waste-to-energy plant and was told that the savings would likely be greater than projected. Also, the last waste-to-energy facility built in Maryland, in Montgomery County, is doing better financially than it was projected to do.
Although some are pointing to the fact that tipping fees have been dropping lately — and suggesting that the costs of staying with the current system would not be as high as originally thought — the same factors that are lowering tipping fees would in all likelihood also affect project costs, maintaining the superior financials of the waste-to-energy option.
Other important factors considered by Carroll County before it initially committed to the waste-to-energy facility included whether a better technology was likely to become available soon. There are hundreds of waste-to-energy facilities in operation around the world, and brand-new waste-to-energy plants are currently being planned in the U.S. and in seven other countries including Canada, Denmark and China.
Waste-to-energy remains a state-of-the art technology, and nothing better appears to be on the horizon.
Some people opposed to the project have expressed concern that in converting to the waste-to-energy process, the county would be taking over a function currently performed by the private sector, but that is not the case. Waste haulers in Carroll County would continue to do what they have been doing; the only thing that would change after the waste-to-energy plant is built is that Carroll would dispose of the trash differently — burning it and converting it to energy instead of burying it.
There have been objections by environmental advocates, but waste-to-energy is one of the cleanest sources of power in use today, and emissions from Maryland's waste-to-energy plants are strictly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The facility would not burn recyclables (as has been rumored); it would receive only non-recycled waste, and residents would continue to be asked to separate their recyclables from the rest of their waste. In fact, jurisdictions with waste-to-energy facilities typically have higher recycling rates than other jurisdictions.
And contrary to other rumors, Carroll residents would pay no extra fees for waste disposal if the waste-to-energy facility is built.
Although this isn't factored into the project's financials, an important side benefit is the huge positive impact the project would have on the economy in the area, including the creation of full-time jobs both during and after construction, and about $260 million that would be spent on local goods and services while the facility is being built.
These are only some of the factors that suggest that this project is a clear winner for Frederick and Carroll counties — that the case for Carroll to remain a partner with Frederick in building and using a waste-to-energy facility is fairly overwhelming.
Those interested in more information on this project should visit the website of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority (www.nmwda.org), the public corporation that is developing the proposed facility and has already built Maryland's three successful WTE facilities.
Richard Haddad is the Carroll County representative of the Cumberland Valley Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade association.