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Marion, Iowa nearing contract proposal for trash-fueled power

This news story was published on February 8, 2012.
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Steve Gravelle, CR Gazette –

Marion could be the first city in the nation to zap its garbage into energy in about five years, but the plan requires more garbage than the city could provide itself.

“The biggest issue is flow control,” Ryan Miller told city council members at this afternoon’s work session.

Miller, Marion’s public works director, was referring to the flow of waste Plasma Power LLC says it needs to make a plant economically viable. Miller said the plant would require 250 tons a day, but Marion only generates about 100 tons.

Plasma Power’s current contract proposal calls for Marion to commit to guaranteeing the full 250 tons a day. If the city failed, it would pay a $1.5 million annual penalty to the Florida-based firm.

“It would be a significant financial burden if we can’t find the tonnage,” Miller said.

City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said the city’s attorneys are still negotiating with Plasma Power. He said a draft contract should be ready for council review by Feb. 23.

Council member Joe Spinks said Plasma Power’s current proposal “rubbed me the wrong way. It is a new technology that’s in need of a showcase, but they’re going to need to do better than that.”

Miller said the city collects about 25 tons of residential waste a day, and private haulers collect about 80 tons from business and industry in the city. Under a new solid waste ordinance adopted last year, the city can direct private haulers where to dump their loads – a condition it hasn’t yet invoked.

The answer may lie with the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, whose reopening of its landfill off County Home Road north of Marion prompted the city’s interest in plasma-arc technology. The technology passes a gas through powerful electrodes to create a high-temperature torch that would instantly convert solid garbage into a gas and a small amount of harmless slag.

Plasma Power’s plan calls for using the waste-derived gas to fuel a boiler. Its steam would be sold to nearby customers for heating or electrical generation as Alliant Energy did at its Sixth Street Generating Station near downtown Cedar Rapids before it was wrecked in the June 2008 flood.

“There’s a definite steam market,” Pluckhahn said.

Miller said the metro area generates 700 to 800 tons of waste a day, more than enough to meet Plasma Power’s needs – if the waste agency’s board would agree to the project, which would reduce its revenues from landfill tipping fees.

“I think it’s time to put them on notice: ‘Here’s your opportunity,’” councilmember Paul Draper said. “They’re the ones who came out and said, ‘Oh, this is a great technology.”

Plasma Power’s new estimate of its waste needs is about twice what it told Marion and waste agency officials last year. Miller said the firm wants a 25-year contract.

“That is a very, very long contract in this industry, but it is very typical of waste-to-energy facilities,” he said.

That holds another potential pitfall for the city: some newer technology, and competition for solid waste as a fuel, could make a plasma plant obsolete before a contract is up.

“We (need) protection in there so we’re not left with a more expensive method of disposing of waste” if technology changes the market, Pluckhahn said.

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11 Responses to Marion, Iowa nearing contract proposal for trash-fueled power

  1. Avatar

    Johnny Rotten Reply Report comment

    February 11, 2012 at 1:49 am

    Patriot you are a moron and I hope they dump it all in your back yard..

  2. Avatar

    Observer Reply Report comment

    February 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    In most facilities, RMW (regulated medical waste) is not allowed with MSW (municipal solid waste). Any load with red bags, is scooped back up, and taken where it came from. Regulations very from state to state.

    Normally waste is visually inspected for red bags as it is being ‘tipped’, and everything is stopped, and the load segregated and returned on the same truck.

    Same goes in certain facilities with HazMat. If the sniffer picks up any, the load is refused.

    In order to ship MSW, there must be a traceable manifest, subject to local and EPA laws governing the shipment of same. If HazMat is mixed in, and there is no statement to that effect on the manifest or waybill, back it goes.

    Part of the reason that New Jersey gets so much HazMat, is that they are home to the so-called “Chemical Coast” and state regulations are quite strict (to include testing concrete waste from suspected sites). There are a lot of disposal companies in and around Elizabethport/Newark that can handle just about anything from remediation soils, to the waste itself.

    Personally, I would not worry about HazMat from Jersey in MSW, as any fly-by-nights have within a five hour or so drive, abandoned mines in PA to dump their stuff.

    • Avatar

      Patriot Reply Report comment

      February 9, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Have you ever seen how most bio waste is delt with? Much of it is run through a scrhedding machine and then dumped into the ragular waste line.

      I don’t put much faith in the EPA tracking hazordous waste, I’ve seen to many times where the waste falls through the cracks and is mishandled.

  3. Avatar

    Observer Reply Report comment

    February 8, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Mean time, the Megalopolis in and around NYC export trash all the time, and they pay for the transport by rail. There are trans-load proposals all over the East Coast to move trash by train to the Mid-West for land-filling. Be it plasma or pyrolysis, they are the perfect solution for areas looking for a place they can dispose MSW, and they pay!

    Their problem could be advantageous to us. But we have no forsight what-so-ever around here. That is why other areas have more jobs, they don’t say NO!

    • Avatar

      Sandy Reply Report comment

      February 9, 2012 at 6:05 am

      I would just like to ask did you go to the meeting this CES company had or what ever name they were going by before they left town?

    • Avatar

      Patriot Reply Report comment

      February 9, 2012 at 6:05 am

      Yes, lets import this trash along with the disease and lord knows what else! Thanks but no thanks, why should the midwest become the dumping ground for the east coast? If this is so great why are they not building these plants there? Would solve the problem. Why? Because they don’t wan’t them either!

      Like the article said, good chance that technology would be outdated before the contract would be up. Another high risk idea.

    • Avatar

      Observer Reply Report comment

      February 9, 2012 at 7:19 am

      Meetings, no, I did not attend them, with good reason. I understand the science behind it, I have a pretty good idea the finances behind it (what drives it). All businesses have risk involved in one form or another. Ethanol does on more than one or two fronts.

      I have one question Patriot. What exactly is the difference between East Coast MSW, and that from Iowa? Why is theirs so risky and diseased, and ours is not? Is it the East Coast cooties you fear?

      I can answer the question of why they do not make accommodations themselves on the East Coast. Mmost of it has to do with space. But the attitudes there reflect some of which exist here, for both landfills, and other waste solutions. I followed a case before the Surface Transportation Board where a transfer station plan in Massachusetts lay bogged down in supposed controversy for 3 years. Some of the naysayers did not even live in the same state.

      And one cannot forget the infamous barges that sat in New York Harbors for months as they tried to find a place for it.

      In essence, they said no to their own trash, yet are quite willing to pay a premium to send it elsewhere. That smells of opportunity to me.

    • Avatar

      Bushpilot Reply Report comment

      February 9, 2012 at 8:00 am

      That’s a huge penalty knowing going to the contract your 150 tons short.

    • Avatar

      Anonymous Reply Report comment

      February 9, 2012 at 8:16 am

      Scott, thanks for keeping the debate about the CES plant based in fact and not fear. However, it’s over so let’s move on to more prodctive discussions about our future, like how we lost the Target distribution center.

    • Avatar

      Patriot Reply Report comment

      February 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      The fact that it has to be shipped as unprocessed waste, imagine what the summer heat will brew up in those rail cars on there way to a midwest destination!

      A much higher population, more dirty diapers, medical waste and so forth. I’m sure there not going to process out anything before shipping it. Whats to stop questionable people from adding toxic waste to it? Are you going to ship it back? Nope, we’d simply be stuck with there mess.

      Have you ever wondered why so much hazordous waste is shipped to New Jersey and just what do they do with it? A fair amount of it is processed under special circumstances, but just imagine if you could mix some of that in with trash being shipped out of state how much money they could save.

      Nope, I don’t beleive it’s a good idea to import trash.

  4. Avatar

    cerwin Reply Report comment

    February 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm
    I found an interesting article on this process. Its long but informative.