Several months ago, Frederick County broke ground on the Ballenger-McKinney Photovoltaic Solar Project — a 5-acre, 1.3-megawatt solar array. This project is special, not only because of the over $100,000 it will save Frederick County every year. It also takes the place of what would have been a municipal waste incinerator burning Frederick County and Carroll County’s waste, less than a mile away from two elementary schools.

Frederick, alongside other communities across Maryland, is showing our commitment to moving away from trash incineration, toward truly renewable energy and zero waste. And right now, Maryland legislators are considering HB961 and SB548 — sponsored by Sen. Hough of Frederick County — to remove trash incineration from the Tier 1 renewable energy category in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and take away millions of dollars’ worth of subsidies that Maryland’s remaining incinerators receive every year.

It’s time for Maryland’s legislature to follow the youngest members of our community and the adaptive attitudes they are bringing to the table, and stop subsidizing trash incineration.

In Baltimore, teens and young adults have changed the conversation about the Bresco incinerator, which pollutes the air they breathe. Their activism, and the self-education they’ve done on this issue, is a harbinger of things to come.

They know that incinerators are not efficient producers of energy, and that it’s been proved in communities worldwide that there are so many better ways to handle materials bound for landfilling than to burn them.

Here in Frederick, much younger children are demonstrating their adaptive spirits, as elementary-age kids in several pilot schools have shown that with some education and a bit of oversight, they’ll willingly — and even enthusiastically — divert 80 percent of their cafeteria “waste” into bins for organics, recyclables and liquids. Eighty percent! It’s inspiring to see how readily the children — the youngest, in particular — understand and adapt.

Frederick and Carroll counties came very close to building a new incinerator for our waste several years ago. But citizens in both counties who opposed the project for environmental and financial reasons changed the counties’ course. It took a long time, and the involvement of hundreds of citizen activists and experts, but eventually, the contract to build the incinerator was overturned.

What we learned during and since the incinerator battle, is that there are much better alternatives to incineration for “waste management,” more accurately called “resource management,” since much of the material we call waste can actually be repurposed, reused, recycled and composted.

County Executive Jan Gardner instituted a process called “What’s Next” after the incinerator project was canceled. A yearlong series of forums took place around our county to solicit input from county citizens about how we should best divert material from landfilling. A tremendous number and variety of creative solutions were brought forward, and a citizen committee, aided by a consulting company, sifted through all of the ideas.

The committee found that the most promising immediate action would be to begin a county wide organics collection and composting program, since waste sorts have shown that about 30 percent of the material we landfill is organic, much of it food. At this moment, the legislative, budgetary, and regulatory gears are moving Frederick County toward pilot programs and public education, and ultimately to a robust diversion of organics from landfilling, with the added tremendous benefits of producing compost from the organics to amend our soil on farms and elsewhere.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that granting renewable energy status (and financial subsidies) to incinerators is an idea that simply cannot be justified, given that there are so many more effective ways to deal with “waste,” and given that incinerators are not a renewable or efficient way to deliver energy.

Why is our state continuing to give incinerators financial benefits, when our tax dollars can be invested in actual renewable energy production, like solar and wind, and create jobs in those arenas, too?

Look to the children, teens, and young adults to see the way of the future. We must all be willing and able to adapt, moving away from old technologies and on toward more innovative and healthier ones. Maryland must pass HB961 and SB548 to help make this vision possible.

Gallagher is a member of the Frederick Zero Waste Alliance.

(13) comments

bosco

Vienna Austria has a waste to energy plant right in the middle of town. Can't post a link with my smart phone, but you can find it on the google.

jerseygrl42

that doesn't makee it right and had you seen the list of toxins that would have been generated you might have joined the fight against it ....mercury, lead arsenic just to name a few ...into the Bay we are spending millions to try to clean and in the air we breathe....

jerseygrl42

Excellent piece Patrice, and some of us senior citizens have also lent energy and support to this effort , first to defeat the incinerator that O'Malley , NMWDA, and some still collecting a paycheck from Frederick county taxpayers, worked very hard to build on Buckeystown Pike; and later to begin the implementation of clean energy options that you write about here. Hopefully we will get to a Resource Recovery Park at some point in the near future where 80-90% of what once was known as trash can be reused and recycled. Thank you for all you've done to get us where we are today and thanks to Sen. Hough for his strong support!

gary4books

Another "Children's Crusade." If only they had adult supervision. Their energy is awesome.

glenkrc

The only reason the cited solar array is "saving" Frederick County that much money is because the project itself was the beneficiary of various federal, state, and utility ratepayer subsidies.

DickD

True, but you don't add in all of the subsidies for oil and gas either. In the long run, with costs going down, solar will be far better. In commercial, large scale applications solar is already cheaper.

glenkrc

Dick, we went over this a few months ago. I found the government report (https://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/pdf/subsidy.pdf) showing that, on a per-unit-energy basis, the Federal subsidies for solar were head and shoulders above those for fossil fuels and nuclear. In fact, in 2016, while producing only ~1% of our electricity (and obviously ~none of our non-electrical energy), solar managed to garner ~15% of the Federal subsidies. Interesting that gas and oil obtained no net subsidy and even generated a SURPLUS that equaled ~5% of Federal energy subsidies to other forms of production

And remember: The above only considered Federal subsidies. And we no doggone well that MD and other states are providing both direct and indirect (read: renewable portfolio standards) subsidies.

DickD

You were right then, you will be wrong soon.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2018/01/13/renewable-energy-cost-effective-fossil-fuels-2020/#3038b4974ff2

"The cost of renewable energy is now falling so fast that it should be a consistently cheaper source of electricity generation than traditional fossil fuels within just a few years, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The organisation – which has more than 150 member countries – says the cost of generating power from onshore wind has fallen by around 23%  since 2010 while the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity has fallen by 73% in that time. With further price falls expected for these and other green energy options, IRENA says all renewable energy technologies should be competitive on price with fossil fuels by 2020.

Globally, onshore wind schemes are now costing an average of $0.06 per kilowatt hour (kWh), although some schemes are coming in at $0.04 per KwH, while the cost of solar PV is down to $0.10 per KwH. In comparison, the cost of electricity generation based on fossil fuels typically falls in a range of $0.05 to $0.17 per KwH."

jerseygrl42

burning trash is also subsidized by the state ( taxpayers) and is the worst polluter of them all

MD1756

You're not including the external environmental and human health costs from fossil fuels and nuclear (there is still no final waste disposal site for radioactive wastes from the nuclear plants). So the EIA report only counts part of the costs that may be direct subsidies, but certainly doesn't include all of the costs. Consider the info in these links: https://news.energysage.com/solar-energy-vs-fossil-fuels/ ... https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2018/01/13/renewable-energy-cost-effective-fossil-fuels-2020/#42f5bfa14ff2 ... https://cleantechnica.com/2018/01/26/renewable-energy-doesnt-get-subsidies-fossil-nuclear-sources-gotten-continue-get/ ... For "hidden costs" see: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils and https://www.energyandpolicy.org/value-of-solar-versus-fossil-fuels-part-two/

glenkrc

1756 - You're not going to convince me with a smattering of articles from advocacy groups or one-sided articles about reports from advocacy groups. It's that type of reporting that exaggerated hazards from nuclear power plants, resulting in heightened regulatory requirements, which led to increased costs, such that nuclear became "uneconomical". I've watched that dance for over 40 years. It's also the major reason that "there is still no final waste disposal site for radioactive wastes from the nuclear plants”.

DickD

Good article, Patrice. In my opinion, Frederick County's solution for solar energy stinks!

marklong999

Well done, Patrice!

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