Friday, May 05, 2006

Power and People

The City government, along with Siemens, is looking at building a power plant that would by powered by city trash. The trash would be first be sorted and processed to remove metal and some other recyclable materials before being fed to a gasification plant. The resulting "syngas" would then be used as fuel in a modern electric generation plant that could produce a minimum of 10 megawatts. The power would then be sold to large commercial customers signed to long term contracts. Goodfellow Air Force Base is one of the customers mentioned. A unique feature of the proposed plant is that the waste methane produced at the land fill and waste treatment plant would be used as part of the fuel in the gasification and power plant.

There are a number of reasons why this is being considered. Land fills are expensive to create and maintain. Our land fill, like most, produces problematic levels of methane that must be dealt with either through a flare or use in project like this power plant. The end result of the process will take up much less room than the original trash, and will be inert. The separated metals and some of the other materials can be sold to recycling companies. The electricity will be sold which will bring in revenue, which could even result in lower taxes.

There are potential downsides. There could be problems with pollution. Special attention needs to be paid to the initial separation so that hazardous materials don't end up in the plant. This will require closer monitoring than a conventional power plant. There are also concerns that this could make different approaches such as a Zero Waste Programs harder to implement or promote. They even go so far as to say that plants such as we envision could be obsolete about the time the loan is paid off.

This project is going to take some time to complete. The permitting process alone could take a couple of years. Add on construction, inspection, etc. and we are looking a few years down the road before the first watt of power is produced. If the concerns and requirements of the EPA and TCEQ can't be met, the project will never be built.

This project is about one way to handle trash without spending a lot of taxpayer money. The amount of power produced probably wouldn't power 10% of the homes in San Angelo. The wind generation project that the Commissioners Court is persuing could eventually power the concho valley and still sell energy to major markets like Dallas and Houston.

This issue is still young. We will be following and analyzing it here and have started a reference page on our website.

1 comment:

  1. allie devereaux8:50 AM, May 17, 2006

    How can we really expect hazardous materials to be kept from going to the plant? Especially there is not sorting done prior to landfilling (i.e.: recycling?)
    All of Shannon's hazardous waste gets ground up into a fine powder like material and goes straight to the landfill. Most of this medical waste contains high levels of PVC -a high dioxin producer. The sorting stage when operating correctly would be extremely costly and time consuptive and one of the easiest places to cut corners. And who will be resonsible for the sorting process? Current landfill personel? Find me an incinerator scenario that has made the residents of the community where it is located in happy...