Marion Considering ‘Waste-To-Energy’ System
OCALA - The Marion County Commission moved forward with a plan on March 3 that would sideline the proposed expansion of the Baseline Landfill. The county will explore a proposal put forward by Commissioner Andy Kesselring to instead build a waste-toenergy system using state of the art “plasma arc” technology.
The goal of this system would be to permanently solve Marion County’s long-term waste disposal needs with a cuttingedge system that can turn our waste into usable energy, all while having a negligible impact on our environment. In addition, the county’s waste disposal consultant “S2Li” claims the plant will be a source of $5 million to $12 million in revenue, from energy production and “tipping fees”.
But this high-tech solution doesn’t come without a hefty price tag - estimates range from 100 to 180 million dollars, depending on the size. The Marion Commission will pay for that cost by quadrupling the annual residential solid waste assessment from 76 dollars per household today to 301 dollars by 2016, with an initial jump of 50 dollars followed by 25 dollar per-year increases until the fee reaches the target goal. Each increase would have to be approved separately.
Similar projects are already underway in Tallahassee and St. Lucie County, but neither is yet operational. Geoplasma, LLC is the company behind the plant in St. Lucie County, and the company expects to recoup its $425 million investment, funded by bonds, within 20 years. Revenue comes from the sale of electricity and slag, the residual material waste. “The company has assumed full responsibility for interest on the bonds, St. Lucie County won’t pay a dime,” according to USA Today.
There are also several similar plants operational in Canada, Japan, and Europe.
The proposal is not without potential pitfalls either. A similar plan was terminated in Hawaii after careful review.
“After thorough evaluations, including intensive meetings with the proposers to review technical components of their plans, we concluded that utilizing plasma arc/torch would significantly increase the cost of waste disposal for Oahu and would not provide any environmental advantages to justify such cost.”, said Frank Doyle, Director of The City Department of Environmental Services of Oahu.
In addition, the Oahu report concluded that “landfilling of residues, or slag, would still be necessary. Proposals included intentions to reuse the residues, but there was insufficient evidence of feasibility. The largest operational facility in Japan is landfilling the residue from the plant, and thus far there is no evidence that the residue material has been accepted for use or application by any business or operation.”
The Oahu report further stated, “The current state of the technology poses potential high risks of interrupted service operations due to technical complications.” It also pointed out that despite the glowing claims made by the industry, “There are no plasma arc facilities of reasonable capacity, such as the 100,000 tons-per-year facility proposed for Honolulu, operating commercially anywhere in the world.” Some environmental scientists have warned that the residual substances may contain toxic heavy metals, and there are other potential environmental problems. The plasma arc technology uses both coke and coal to maintain heat, which contributes to the higher operating cost and depletion of non-renewable fuel resources.
The Liberty Sentinel hopes that as this discussion progresses, Marion County commissioners will weigh the risks, benefits, and costs of this proposal with the need for a long-term solution to Marion’s waste disposal needs and a prudent use of the citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars. If the claims about usable byproducts and energy are factual, a private industry solution seems an attractive path to follow.
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