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Renewable groups contest trash talk

Sean Ryan
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Wind and solar advocates are resisting the market competition posed by plants that burn garbage for electricity.

Under a state law change approved this year, the garbage technology, called plasma gasification, is in the same category as wind and solar as avenues for utilities to meet state renewable energy mandates.

Charlene Lemoine, waste issues representative for the Waukesha Environmental Action League, said she opposes the new technology because utilities can buy power straight from the garbage-burning plants rather than from wind or solar sources. Those plants, she said, need power to generate power and produce emissions.

“We would like to see the state focusing on clean renewable energies,” she said, “particularly focusing on wind and solar.”

Alliance Federated Energy LLC, Milwaukee, plans to build a $235 million plant called Project Apollo in Milwaukee that would burn municipal trash to generate about 30 megawatts of electricity.

Wisconsin utilities generate about 6 percent of their power from renewable sources, said Christopher Maloney, Alliance chairman and CEO. But the state is mandating utilities hit 10 percent by 2015, so there’s a 4 percent window that companies such as Alliance are competing to fill, he said.

Maloney said much of the opposition to plasma plants is market-driven.

“A lot of it is backed by the wind interests,” he said. “Given that there is now a 10 percent cap, there is a concern that we will be competing, and we will.”

Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a consortium of renewable energy companies, said wind energy producers in his association have raised concerns about competition. He said they also question whether the plasma plants can match the  environmental benefits of wind and solar.

“Plasma gasification is just sort of a tricked-out technology for dealing with garbage,” Vickerman said. “And, as far as I’m concerned, they haven’t made a case as to why this should be a preferred energy resource.”

Maloney said the plasma plants, beyond keeping garbage out of landfills, let utilities diversify their renewable energy sources. Unlike wind farms, which cannot produce a steady stream of electricity, the plasma plants can run every day all day, he said.

“Now it’s time to get busy building these plants,” Maloney said, “and I think Wisconsin has, given the volume of waste in the state, the ability to build three or four of these.”

State Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, said competition between among types of renewable energy will lead to better prices for Wisconsin ratepayers. Plale sponsored the state bill that let plasma technology count toward meeting renewable energy mandates.

“I don’t see the downside to that,” Plale said of burning garbage to produce power. “I think that if you put blinders on and say, ‘Wind and sun are the only renewable energy sources,’ you are kind of missing the boat.”

Lemoine said the plasma plants are environmentally inferior to wind and solar and hamper efforts to increase garbage recycling and composting.

“The loss,” she said, “is that there is much more that can be done.”


  1. This sounds like a great idea. We are always generating garbage. Wind doesn’t always blow and when it does it is often at a very low speed. Wind turbines are designed to be 27-30% efficient. I bet the plasma plants will be much more efficient and reliable and at the same time take care of filling landfills. It was not mentioned, but I would think steel, aluminum and other metals would be recovered to help cover costs. Again, sound like a brilliant idea..

  2. Why are the wind and solar guys against this? Because they want the money and don’t want any competing technology? Their arguments are weak and sound desperate. This would hamper efforts to increase recycling and composting? What? That doesn’t even make sense. I guess we can now start these environmental groups as pro-landfill.

  3. Rich Eggleston

    How can so-called advocates of renewable energy be so myopic? This spring the New York Times reported that Europe is far, far ahead of the high-tech garbage-to-energy projects.

    In Denmark, “Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration,” The Times reported.


    Shame on Michael Vickerman and Charlene Lemoine for closing their minds to new technologies tthat have been proven elsewhere, and raising red herrings to boot.

  4. There are so many problems with this technology and the policy adopted to let it qualify for renewable credits that it’s hard to know where to start. The biggest in my mind is that the greenhouse gas emissions are equal to or greater than fossil fuels such as natural gas and, if built, it will displace much cleaner, zero-emission energy sources such as wind and solar power. But maybe an equally important strike against this particluar garbage technology is that it would cost more than twice as much as the most expensive power plant ever proposed in Wisconsin. Senator Plale helped kill the Clean Energy Jobs Act supposedly because the renewable energy would be to expensive but at the same time sponsor the garbage bill for technology that’s much more expensive than anything ever proposed in this state for generating electricity. Shame on Senator Plale and Rich E. for trying to saddle Wisconsin ratepayers with the most expensive form of electric generation ever!

  5. Rich Eggleston

    Keith should be distinguishing between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions are emissions from burning stuff that’s already in the environment — garbage, wood for my fireplace, etc. This stuff is relatively benign. It would create carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pretty soon anyway.

    The nasty stuff is global warming gas, which has been trapped deep underground for millions of yeas. When we suddenly unleash it on the environment, this is the stuff that creates global warming. Don’t confuse the two, as some environmentalists are wont to do. If we lived in caves and burned wood in campfires and didn’t drive cars, we wouldn’t have global warming.

    But we’d still create garbage, and we’d have to do something with it.

  6. Gasification or other waste-to-energy technologies should not count as renewable energy. The US EPA life-cycle analysis of energy used in various waste management technologies shows that recycling saves three to five times as much energy as using the waste for fuel provides (see Savings.pdf.). Furthermore, 50% of the material in solid waste is made with fossil petroleum or natural gas that is certainly not renewable. The New York Times article presents an incomplete, inaccurate account of waste management including all options. Recycling is by far the best option from the energy standpoint as well as minimizing damage to the environment. Almost all waste, including food and other organic waste, can be recycled when you include biological degradation technologies. Several cities are well along in achieving zero waste. Eggleston is really confused in trying to distinguish between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming gas emissions that are identical.

  7. Renewable energy should include any energy derived from a source that is constantly replenished, whether solar, wood, or wind. Those are all sources of renewable energy created by nature. But let’s not forget mankind, and mankind’s seemingly unlimited ability to create garbage.

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