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Covanta Plant Tour- Electric Power from Waste

February 25, 2011 @ 12:00 am EST


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Another in our continuing our series of field trips to important Long Island locations, today’s meeting was held at Islip Town’s Resource recovery plant next to Long Island MacArthur Airport
The plant is run under contract by Covanta, burning solid waste and generating around ten Megawatts of electricity, which is then sold to LIPA.  The town and Covanta share the revenue brought in by the plant.  An additional revenue stream is generated by separating and selling recyclable metals from the waste stream both before and after waste burning.

As with our meeting at the Northport power station, the meeting opened with a discussion of safety issues.   The Covanta plant has compiled an impressive streak of over 2270 days that were accident-free, a testament to conscientious work.  The plant is part of OSHA’s VPP program, attaining star status.

Waste to energy facilities have come far from their days where they were simply incinerators of garbage.  European countries with their limited space for landfills have long been the leaders in the waste to energy area.  The LIMA plant is a recovery operation, getting back energy and metals from the wast stream.  It also reduces the volume of waste, so that the ultimate end product of ash is a far smaller volume than the original source material. 


About 50 pounds of metal per ton of solid waste is recovered, and about 500 Kilowatt-hours per ton of electricity is able to be generated from that waste.  The recycling of the metals reduces greenhouse gas emissions substantially, as opposed to new metal production. 


The plant also operates well under its emissions limits, producing up to only 5% of the allowable levels.  This is due to the extensive gas scrubbers, particulate filters, and the O’Connor combustor design that is employed.  As part of the company’s continuous improvement programs, projects to further reduce Nitrous Oxides, Mercury, and Dioxin emissions are underway.  During the program’s lifetime, the facility was also part of EPA’s Performance Track program.


Currently, Long Island exports about 800,000 tons of solid waste per year.  The Islip plant burns about 176,000 tons per year.  This additional fuel could be used to generate more base-load electricity as the Islip plant does.  Currently, it puts out an average of 10-12 Megawatts of power.  


The plant has been in continuous operation since 1990, about three years after the saga of the Mobro 4000, Islip’s infamous "Garbage Barge", assuring that there won’t be a repeat of that.  Dealing with the waste stream generated by living isn’t attractive, but is one of those necessaries.  Landfilling it generates Methane, a greenhouse gas, and incurs expensive transportation and landfilling costs.  Burning it generates electricity and recovers some recyclable metals, but also introduces other kinds of air pollution.  It is a game of the lesser of evils, that we must address. 


Informing ourselves about the realities that are available to us allows us to make better decisions that are easier to live with.  Understanding the options before us is one of the main missions of LIMBA.  On a rainy late winter Friday morning, we learned a lot more about one of the ways we can deal with the real issues of our lifestyle.  Come join us to be better educated about the real, practical issues that are facing Long Island so that we can all make the best decisions together.