As county revises solid waste plan, gasification gets a hearing

| 22 Feb 2012 | 02:36

    Developer Jim Taylor says his waste-to-energy plant won’t create byproducts, By Edie Johnson Goshen - Jim Taylor, president of Taylor Recycling, sat quietly while critics blasted his proposed waste-to-energy plant earlier this month at a public discussion in Montgomery sponsored by Orange Environment. “Call it what you may,” one opponent said. “It’s just another incinerator.” After an hour and a half of biomass-to-gas bashing, Taylor stood up to speak. By the time he finished describing his project, he had made at least a few converts. ‘Bring sanity to the trash train’ As Taylor Holdings seeks permission to build a biomass gasification plant in Montgomery, Orange County is working on revisions to its Solid Waste Master Plan. Orange Environment held an informational forum earlier this month to “sharpen our thinking and inform us about choices.” “The trash belongs to the public,” one person said. “This is the moment to bring sanity to the trash train.” Critics of gasification, a process that turns organic wastes to fuel, produced a long list of successful zero-waste facilities in the United States that separate recyclables for reuse while providing jobs. One pointed to a program where ex-cons dismantle cars into usable materials, talents they once used on the street. Guest speaker Neil Seldman, president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance and an expert on waste, said massive zero-waste programs are popping up all across the country. In one program by Purdue, shredded chicken parts fertilize field that then grow flowers. Another program, Ag Choice, based in Andover, N.J., and sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, has since 2006 diverted more than 3 million pounds of recyclable food waste and 15,000 cubic yards of other organics from area landfills. The problem with the Taylor plant, opponents say, is that incineration produces byproducts harmful to the environment. Critics said many gasifiers have already failed because of the high cost of construction and the problem of maintaining a sufficient flow of trash. Taylor’s difference: No byproducts Jim Taylor told the audience, “I am every bit as against incineration as you are.” The difference with his proposal is that it does not use combustion and therefore creates no byproducts. He provided a long history of research that led to the design of his proposed plant. When he met with media mogul Ted Turner and representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy in 1990, he said, there were 42 proposed gasifier systems, 40 of them rejected as hopped-up incinerators. The gas created will move a turbine to create energy for electricity - and lots of it, he said. Orange County Legislator Leigh Benton, head of the committee to revise the waste master plan, said he insists options for material recovery facilities be included in the solid waste plan. Through these facilities, proponents think local residents would have the opportunity to find some fascinating treasures that might otherwise become trash. If trash-to-treasures advocates can get together with the Taylor group, even more recyclable material could be put to use. One of several alternatives By the end of the session, many in the audience were convinced that Taylor’s plan is one of several viable options in managing waste. “If Taylor is going to turn trash into energy, I don’t get the problem,” one person said. Taylor said his facility already separates glass, plastic, wood, concrete for reuse, and separates out household toxic waste. “I am very proud to say we have kept 1 million tons of garbage out of landfills,” he said. Those who see reuse of recyclables as the way to go acknowledged Taylor’s good intentions but think he’s getting bad advice. They said he could make a lot more money by re-using raw materials, such as copper. Michael Edelstein, president of Orange Environment, said the problem with the gasifier “is that this would centralize waste when what we need is to disburse it.” There was one point upon which everyone agreed: that it is appalling that the law allows large waste carriers to dump the recyclables so diligently separated by the public if dumping is cheaper. On the energy side, advocates of gasification see it as an alternative to natural gas, a nonrenewable fossil fuel extracted by a risky drilling process known as “fracking.” Taylor claims his project, with its patent pending, would be the first true gasifier in the United States. Several are operating in Europe and Japan. Taylor has been promised a $100 million federal grant but may lose it if he doesn’t get the approval he needs from the Town of Montgomery. Taylor’s plant will provide an estimated 300 temporary construction jobs, 46 full-time positions and $2.5 million annually in wages and revenue to Orange County. On the Internet: