Puerto Ricans will soon be turning their trash into renewable energy. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its final approval of an air permit for a 77 megawatt EfW plant, owned by Energy Answers International, a first for the U.S. island territory.
The $650 million facility, which will be built in three years in the town of Arecibo, will create thousands of direct and indirect induced jobs, and turn more than 2,100 tons of garbage a day into renewable electricity for more than 76,000 homes on the island. Creating domestic renewable energy is a major necessity since Puerto Rico’s electricity is overwhelmingly derived from imported petroleum, natural gas, and coal.
Six public hearing sessions were held since May 2012, and over 3,000 public comments had been reviewed by the EPA. And while the comment period is open for this issued permit, Energy Answers has gone through a long and rigorous review process and there should be no objections that delay the project from moving forward.
Here are five reasons why energy from waste is a great opportunity for Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States:
Energy from waste reduces greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change
According to the EPA, for every ton of garbage processed at an EfW facility, approximately one ton of emitted carbon-dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere is prevented. This is because the trash burned at an EfW facility doesn’t generate methane, as it would at a landfill; the metals that would have been sent to the landfill are recycled instead of thrown out; and the electricity generated offsets the greenhouse gases that would otherwise have been generated from coal and natural gas plants.
Furthermore, EPA scientists concluded that sending waste to EfW facilities is the better than sending to garbage landfills with optimum conditions for capturing methane and turning it into electricity because these landfills will generate two to six times more greenhouse gases than EfW plants.
Energy from waste increases recycling rates
Communities can have both EfW and recycling strategies that are compatible. In fact, communities using EfW technology have an aggregate recycling rate above the national average. A 2009 study examined EfW facilities in the U.S. and found that communities using EfW have a 33 percent recycling rate. Puerto Rico currently has an 11 percent recycling rate. It is important to note then that the EfW facility in Arecibo will be the island’s largest recycling plant.
Energy from waste produces renewable energy
Puerto Rico is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels for electricity. According to the EIA, 68 percent of the island’s electricity comes from petroleum, 16 percent from natural gas, and 15 percent from coal, and the remaining one percent of electricity comes from hydropower. While onshore and offshore wind, solar, and tidal energy must be developed on the island, EfW should also be a vital source of electricity to free Puerto Ricans from imported dirty energy.
Unlike other types of renewable energy sources, EfW is considered a base load power that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. This means that EfW can pair nicely with wind and solar energy and provide electricity to the grid when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
Energy from waste can save local governments money
Hauling trash to landfills is expensive for many cities and territories. New York City, for example, paid more than $300 million last year just to transport trash to out-of-state landfills. In these cases, EfW facilities could be immediately beneficial by saving governments money while generating jobs and local revenue from an EfW facility. On a long-term economic basis, EfW facilities cost less than disposing of waste in landfills due to returns from the electricity sold and even the sale of recovered metals.
Jeremy K. O’Brien, director of applied research for the solid-waste-management advocacy organization Solid Waste Association of North America, writes that, “Over the life of the [EfW] facility, which is now confidently projected to be in the range of 40 to 50 years, a community can expect to pay significantly less for MSW disposal at a [EfW] facility than at a regional MSW landfill.”
Energy from waste is an important solution to solving landfilling issues
Of Puerto Rico’s 32 landfills, government officials have said that only about five meet local and federal standards. This means that by 2014 the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board could close the majority of the island’s landfills causing Puerto Rico to run out of space to dispose of its trash by 2018.
Additionally, methane emissions in landfills are a problem since methane is more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide emissions. Consequently, landfills are the third-largest contributor of anthropogenic methane emissions in the U.S., accounting for 16 percent of total methane emissions as a result of human activities in 2011 and preceded only by the natural gas and agricultural sectors, respectively.
Energy from waste is a key solution for fossil fuel-dependent regions like Puerto Rico to reduce their reliance on dirty energy, cut emissions from landfills and save money — all while taking out the trash.
The Department of Energy is moving forward with a new $18 million package that will fund four new pilot projects for the Navy’s biofuel program.
The projects are designed to test renewable biofuels that are made using materials as diverse as switchgrass, algae, municipal waste and other forms of refuse.
“Advanced biofuels are an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, improve our energy security and protect our air and water,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a press release. “The innovative biorefinery projects announced today mark an important step toward producing fuels for our American military and the civil aviation industry from renewable resources found right here in the United States.”
The four new projects focus on biofuel feedstocks that don’t involve food for humans or livestock and don’t take up land that could be used for food production.
One of the new projects will be managed by Frontline Bioenergy of Ames, Iowa, whose proprietary TarFreeGas bioreactor will convert woody biomass and municipal solid waste into liquid biofuel product that can be upgraded to meet military specifications.
Mercurius Biorefining in Washington state will be managing another of the projects, which will focus on turning woody biomass into biofuel.
Cobalt Technologies in California will use a fermentation-based process that uses bacteria to break down switchgrass and convert it to butanol, which can be turned into jet fuel.
The fourth project will be managed by an Iowa-based company called BioProcess Algae, which plans on building an algae biorefinery that can produce military-grade biofuel and byproducts.
A new study presents startling findings that rapid climate change may threaten many more species of plants and animals than previous measures have led us to believe.
The study, one of the biggest of its kind, found that only 6–9% of birds, 11–15% of amphibians, and 6–9% corals are currently listed as threatened with extinction, yet overall up to 41% of the world’s bird species, 29% of amphibians and 22% of corals are “highly climate change vulnerable.”
That’s a large and worrying disparity that, researchers say, may mean conservation efforts are out of step with actual extinction threats.
The ambitious study, published in the journal Plos One, was carried out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and uses a new method to assess climate change risk factors for animal and plant species.
Previously, conservation risk assessment has focused only on measuring the amount of change their overall habitat species are likely to experience. The IUCN study, drawing on the work of more than 100 scientists, instead looks at each species’ unique biological and ecological characteristics, and measures exposure risk against sensitivity to climate change and species adaptability.
For instance, the Amazonian Royal Flycatcher, a species of bird already facing the perils of habitat-loss due to deforestation, is under this new measure highly vulnerable to climate change.
Its habitat is predicted to undergo a high level of temperature change. The bird has specific habitat and temperature requirements and therefore will be very sensitive to this change. Due to the fact that the species is localized and does not move from area to area means it is unlikely to adapt well to these changes. This adds up to a less than rosy future for the bird that might have otherwise been missed under the previous assessment criteria.
As you can see, by assessing species in this manner, many more animals and plants could be seen as at risk even though they are not currently treated as threatened. The Amazon rainforest is among the regions the study found to be particularly high in climate change at-risk species, but it isn’t the only region.
Focusing solely on birds, large numbers of highly climate change vulnerable species were also predicted in Mesoamerica, Malaysia, Indonesia and southern Thailand, among other regions. Similarly, should temperatures rise, many more common corals off Indonesia would be highly vulnerable.
Among particular species, Emperor Penguins, the Little Owl and the Imitator Salamander could be classed as markedly climate change vulnerable, none of which have in the past been classed as in direct danger from climate change.
“The findings revealed some alarming surprises,” Wendy Foden, of the IUCN Global Species Program and leader of the study, told Wildlife Extra. “We hadn’t expected that so many species and areas that were not previously considered to be of concern would emerge as highly vulnerable to climate change.”
There are some important caveats to the research, chief among them that the data assessed suffered a number of limitations, but the overall thrust of the argument, that we may need to reconsider climate change threat if we are to ensure preservation of as many species as possible, is largely agreed upon.
Human encroachment, loss of habitat and invasive species all currently rank as more pressing causes of extinction than climate change, the researchers wrote in the study, but conservation priorities should be revised to account for emerging climate risks.
In turn, this data could be used to see where more designated protected wildlife areas might be needed so as to facilitate population management in the face of a rapidly altering climate.
The IUCN will now use these results to update its IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which is held as a key measure of extinction risk, and this will be used to direct and properly deploy conservation plans in the future.