Federal agency greenlights waste-to-energy plant in Arecibo
SAN JUAN – Energy Answers’ proposed Waste to Energy (WTE) Generation and Resource Recovery Facility for Arecibo has passed all of the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act as required by the the Rural Utilities Services (RUS) office in the U.S. Agriculture Department, which approved the project’s final environmental impact statement (EIS).
The $750 million project can now move forward to the construction phase as RUS is expected to guarantee its financing.
“This is major step forward that took multiple years to complete and followed extensive provisions for public participation…. Let’s keep the conversation moving forward,” said Mark Green, project manager.
The facility, which will serve several cities in the northern part of Puerto Rico, is needed as 20 of the 27 landfills in Puerto Rico are non-compliant and must be shut down. Except for a landfill in Loíza, none of the northern landfills in the northern half of Puerto Rico are compliant with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.
Supporters of the facility argued that the WTE plant will bring economic opportunities such as jobs and other investments to the Arecibo area and will combust solid waste that cannot be recycled. Therefore, instead of burying thousands of tons of waste in the landfill, the waste will be used to generate electricity.
The WTE generation and resource recovery project in the Cambalache Ward of Arecibo would receive and process approximately 2,300 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) a day and generate a net output of approximately 67 megawatts(MW), which the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) would purchase.
The final EIS, which has over 230 pages, will now go through a process of 30 days to allow for final comments consisting mostly of minor record clarification. The EIS, which was evaluated by Caribbean Business, addressed all of the environmental concerns raised by opponents of the project.
For instance, regarding the use of wastewater from the Caño Tiburones that critics say will dry up wetlands, the final EIS found that the proposed project would use water currently being pumped into the ocean and divert a percentage of that water to industrial uses, thus not affecting the originating stream.
On the impact the project would have on federally protected species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that there are no known protected species in the area nor any endangered species.
One of the main concerns was the cost to the municipalities of disposing waste at the facility. Arecibo recently enacted an ordinance to start charging for trash collection. The document, however, concluded that the waste-supply agreement Energy Answers has with the Solid Waste Management Authority does not fix prices or prevent them from being lower than the $36.05 per ton established in the agreement.
Regarding concerns on the impact of ash produced by the plant, Green said it is non-hazardous and different from coal ash. The document noted that ash from currently operating waste-to-energy plants throughout the United States is disposed at approved Resource Conservation and Recovery Act landfills, and that there is no information suggesting that the ash from this facility would not also meet these standards for landfill disposal.
On the possibility the project could result in lead poisoning, the EPA noted that the lead-emission rate of the Energy Answers facility is 0.31 tons per year, which is below the rate that would trigger review.