Lawmakers debate C&D incinerator moratoriums

Residents downwind of existing or future wood-, coal- and construction and demolition debris-fired power plants have turned out in force for State House hearings on three bills to cut emissions.

Senate Bill 128 would force Public Service of New Hampshire to reduce its mercury output from 125 pounds a year to 50 pounds by 2009 and 24 pounds by 2013 at its electric plants in Bow, Newington and Portsmouth. The utility has already complied with the bill’s carbon dioxide limit of 5.4 million tons a year by 2010.

House Bill 517 would halt for at least a year plans to burn construction and demolition – or C&D — debris at existing or future facilities in Hinsdale, Barnstead, Hopkinton and half a dozen towns across the Lakes Region and North Country.

A closely related bill, HB 315, passed the Senate earlier in May by overwhelming voice vote and awaits the governor’s signature.

It bans burning construction and demolition trash without a special permit that limits emissions and calls for the use of best practices technology. As defined, that standard would strike a balance among energy production, safety, public health and economic impact. Plants could keep burning natural gas, oil, coal, landfill gas and untreated wood without the permit.

Senator Bob O’Dell, R-Lempster, chairs the Energy and Economic Development Committee that endorsed the HB 315 by a 4-1 vote.

“We heard compelling testimony from (the Department of) Environmental Services that this requirement is reasonable,” O’Dell said.

The first draft of SB 128 allowed PSNH to buy and sell mercury emission credits under the terms of the state’s Clean Power Act, but the full Senate imposed a direct cut in mercury output. The House Environment Committee has retained the bill, but lawmakers have held several work sessions on it after they voted to save it for next session.

Import threat?

Sponsors of HB 517 seek a one-year moratorium on permits to incinerate C&D debris. Supporters fear the state might find itself importing a flood of dubious trash from the rest of New England, where incineration standards are higher.

A proposed commission would look at policies in neighboring states, review the scientific research, study emission control technology and hear from a range of stakeholders to make sure the new industry is safe.

Rep. Christine Hamm, D-Hopkinton – where a proposal seeks to turn an existing wood-burning plant into a C&D incinerator – is prime sponsor of HB 517. She asked if New Hampshire should take care of this class of waste from other states.

Hamm said policymakers have to answer a host of tough questions about the industry right away: What is the preferred method of disposal? Where should you put these plants? How do you regulate them to withstand legal challenges? What are the pros ands cons of burning versus other methods? How do you save the state’s landscape and quality of life? Can you recycle much of the waste stream to keep it small in the first place?

Hamm told senators the bill is about “understanding the hazards involved and providing the appropriate safeguards to avoid them.”

Dorianne Almann of Hinsdale said the Massachusetts-based firm GenPower is planning a 750-tons-a-day burn facility in her town. She said projects like this jeopardize the tourist industry, its $9 billion economic impact and an estimated 150,000 jobs that rely on it.

Carolyn O’Neill lives in one of the oldest houses in Hinsdale, right across the street from the proposed plant.

“I favor light industry and town growth,” she said. “But consider whether this type of plant would be good for your own town. We’re concerned about groundwater contamination, toxic emissions, noise and traffic.”

Victor Chauca, a Henniker EMT, said the state gave a permit to Bio-Energy for the Hopkinton incinerator 250 feet from the Contoocook River to emit up to 2.67 tons of potential toxins per year.

“Does that make sense?” he asked. “We don’t need to invite this trash in from other states.”

Gail Darrell of Barnstead is organizing her neighbors to fight plans to convert the former TIMCO wood-burning plant there into a C&D incinerator. She said stack products have unpredictable effects when mixed with existing air pollution.

Bearing the cost

Officials from PSNH, meanwhile, said SB 128 would cost the utility between $7 million and $76 million in uncertain technologies — a cost it would need to pass on to ratepayers and wholesale buyers.

The Office of Legislative Budget Assistant assumed the Public Utilities Commission would OK a rate increase, and the added cost for state and local governments alone could range from $228,000 to $880,000. PSNH might have to reduce operations or shut down some of its capacity, the LBA noted.

Robert Scott, head of the state’s Air Resources Division, said the southern tier has far-reaching mercury hotspots downwind of the Bow coal-fired power plant.

PSNH spokesperson Lynn Tillotson said her company has spent tens of millions already to cut pollution at Bow and Merrimack. It would cost another $5 million to $10 million per year to run carbon injection equipment, she estimated.

“My fear is that investment would not satisfy the caps in this bill,” Tillotson told lawmakers.

Her colleague Bill Smagula said PSNH plans to spend half a million dollars this summer testing several approaches to the problem. Plants elsewhere get better results than his company’s, he said, but they use a different kind of boiler and coal.

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