A county plan to expand Harford's waste-to-energy plant awaits a decision on funding and bids from manufacturers, who will offer proposals to boost the energy output of the facility in Joppa.
The county recently spent $10 million to upgrade air pollution controls at the 19-year-old plant and has asked the County Council for $60 million for an expansion. Officials say the project would extend the life of the county's landfill in Street and help protect the Chesapeake Bay. Contractor bids on the project are due by the end of May.
"It is where we should be heading," said Robert B. Cooper, county director of public works. "Instead of landfilling trash, we can burn it and use the steam to heat and cool more buildings."
Now operating at full capacity, the Harford Resource Recovery facility on Route 152 burns as much as 360 tons of trash daily and about 120,000 tons annually, more than double the amount of trash that is dumped in the landfill in Street. The expansion would increase the daily incinerator capacity by two-thirds to 600 tons.
"It is basically a power plant," said Frank Henderson, Harford's deputy director of environmental affairs. "We feed it trash, and it makes steam."
Officials say that the plant pays for itself by producing enough steam to power the facility and several Army buildings at Aberdeen Proving Ground. A larger plant would generate more steam and possibly produce electricity that could defray construction costs of the expanded facility, officials said.
The county launched a study of the economic factors involved in increasing the plant's daily capacity, with construction costs estimated at $60 million. Yet given the expected increase in Harford's population from the national military base expansion that is coming to APG, research may find it more practical to build a second plant with an average capacity of 1,200 tons a day, a project estimated to cost about $225 million.
"This is a big investment, but it is the newest technology," Cooper said. "We can reuse most everything out of there. The ash would be higher quality, and we could use it as a cover at the landfill or recycle it."
Building the plant would entail a lengthy application process with the Maryland Department of the Environment and could take more than five years from the time of the initial application to obtaining a building permit. The county would have to meet stringent air quality standards and conduct several public hearings before construction could begin.
In the meantime, space is running out at the Waste Disposal Center, Harford's only county-run landfill.
Last week, state environmental officials approved a permit the county must have to move ahead with expansion of the landfill, a 60-acre facility that is expected to reach capacity by the end of next year. If the $3 million addition, planned for 77 acres adjoining the landfill's receiving area, is not completed by early 2009, Harford might have to ship its trash out of the county, officials say.
"We have to proceed with the landfill expansion soon," Cooper said. "We are really cutting ourselves short."
Several neighbors have opposed the landfill expansion and argued instead for adding to the waste-to-energy plant. Diane Burrier of Street said that while neighbors laud the expansion of the Joppa facility, they plan to appeal the state's decision to award the permit for the Street landfill.
"This permit was mistakenly rubber-stamped," Burrier wrote in an e-mail Friday. "We commend our county executive for moving forward with the Waste to Energy expansion facility, but the [landfill] permit should reflect this."
The county buries about 50,500 tons of trash annually in collector cells at the landfill. Harford also boasts Maryland's highest recycling rate of 64 percent.
"The whole idea of expanding the waste-to-energy plant is that we could minimize what can't be burned to just industrial waste," Henderson said. "With an expanded plant, we could extend the life of the landfill beyond numbers even dreamed of today."
A larger plant would require more cooling water, as much as 1 million gallons a day. Technology exists that would allow discharged water to be cleaned and reused in a constant recirculation process, Henderson said.
The process would decrease the amount of fresh water that would be drawn from nearby sources that feed the bay, he said.
"We could actually recirculate as much water as possible and not have to draw fresh water," he said.
It all may come down to cost. While Councilman Chad Shrodes said it is premature to comment on capital projects under consideration for funding, he supports the concept of expanding the facility.
"It is archaic in this day and age to dump trash into the ground," he said. "We need to incinerate as much trash as possible."