Testimony in Opposition to LD 175, An Act to Increase the Use of Municipal Waste-to-energy Processes as a Source of Renewable Energy
Senator Lawrence, Representative Zeigler, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, my name is Sarah Nichols, and I am the Sustainable Maine Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). Thank you for this opportunity to testify in opposition to LD 175; this proposal is counter-effective to both Maine’s renewable energy and sustainable waste management goals.
NRCM strongly supports the increase of renewable resources that help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, improve our environment, and provide long-term stability for our energy system. Truly renewable energy sources are those that are naturally regenerative. When we harness the energy created by the tides, sun, and wind, for instance, we do not destroy these resources, they are infinite. And it doesn’t take energy from our grid to create them.
Municipal solid waste (MSW) on the other hand—which is our daily household and commercial trash—is made of finite resources that needed significant energy to create and ship to a disposal facility. When burned, they are destroyed, and they do not naturally renew. Plastic is a particularly troubling fuel source since it’s made from fossil fuels. The plastics industry’s contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of coal-fired power plants in this country by 2030.1
NRCM’s position is that if we are going to be burning trash, then we should at least make lemonade out of lemons and capture the energy (and have strict pollution controls in place). Capturing energy should be required best practice for this disposal option, along with landfill gas capture, but we believe that neither should be considered to be a “renewable capacity resource,” nor a “renewable resource” in Title 35-A Chapter 32 §3210.
Facilities that incinerate MSW and recover the energy (waste-to-energy facilities) have been eligible to receive Class II renewable energy credits (RECs) since at least 2009 and were given special treatment above hydroelectric and biomass with a 300% multiplier in 2019, which is due to expire at the beginning of 2025.2 LD 175 would worsen the problem by allowing them to quality for Class I RECs in perpetuity. The purpose of Class I RECs are to incentivize investments in new renewable energy generation that help diversify and clean up our generation mix beyond its current situation. New generation also means new jobs, new investment, and growing new or emerging markets. Paying these waste-to-energy plants more for what they have been doing for decades provides none of that.
The waste-to-energy facility in the Sponsor’s town of Orrington is a key part of our state’s waste processing infrastructure. But this facility provides a good example of one of the unintended consequences of waste-to-energy. I often refer to these facilities as “hungry trash monsters” because they require a steady stream of MSW to operate. In 2019 that facility was not being fed enough plastic to burn efficiently, so they imported 100 metric tons of shredded plastic from Northern Ireland. Two of those tons were not unloaded safely at the Mack Point cargo facility in Searsport, and the result was a devastating plastic pollution spill in Penobscot Bay.
One big reason why that plastic waste was shipped to Maine, and why our state has never met our waste reduction and recycling goals is because disposal at a landfill or incinerator has historically been the cheapest waste management option. If our state’s energy policy is used to make disposal of waste at a landfill or waste-to-energy facility even cheaper, let’s say by providing them money from Class I RECs in perpetuity, for instance, it’s going to make Maine a desirable location for disposal and severely impact our ability to make the economics work in favor of waste reduction and recycling in our state and prevent us from ever reaching our goals.
Further, NRCM has long defended our State’s Solid Waste Management Hierarchy established in 1989 as we’ve worked to make Maine a leader in sustainable waste management policy, which starts with reduce-reuse-and recycle. Waste-to-energy is currently at the bottom of the hierarchy just above disposal at a landfill, because it significantly reduces the volume of waste that needs to be landfilled and has been reported to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when compared with landfilling, but not when compared with recycling or composting.3 LD 175 is misguided as it proposes to place waste-to-energy ABOVE recycling and composting in the hierarchy, as a subset of reuse. Incineration does not reuse, but destroys resources, and any claims that this waste management option provides greater environmental benefit to recycling and composting are dubious at best.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments, we urge you to vote ought-not-to-pass on LD 175, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.