Supporters and opponents of a refuse-burning power plant in south Baltimore squared off Monday night, with residents of Brooklyn and Curtis Bay saying they need the jobs the nearly $1 billion project would bring, while environmentalists warned it would emit health-threatening air pollution.
About two dozen people turned out for the public hearing called by the Maryland Public Service Commission, which must decide whether to approve the 120-megawatt "renewable energy" plant in Fairfield. Only about a third spoke during the brief hearing at the Polish Home Hall in Curtis Bay, but the majority favored the project proposed by Energy Answers International of Albany, NY.
Kurt Kramer, project manager, said the company aims to build the facility (artist's rendering above) to gold LEED standards on a capped portion of the contaminated old FMC chemical plant (pictured below) on Patapsco Avenue. The project would employ boiler technology used in coal-burning power plants to generate electricity and steam from shredded municipal trash, tires, auto parts and wood waste. It would be more efficient and cleaner than standard waste-to-energy incinerators, Kramer said, exceeding federal pollution-control requirements for emissions of particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and lead, among other things.
The project manager also contended the facility would pump more than $40 million a year into the local economy, employing 300 to 400 people on a daily basis in its construction. Company officials have said the plant's operation would employ about 200.
Environmentalists, though, warned that the plant would still be a significant polluter in an area long besieged by industrial emissions and wastes. Lisa Lincoln of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network contended that it would be one of the state's largest emitters of mercury if built. She said regulators need to limit the types of waste the plant could burn to safeguard the community, and impose tighter pollution limits.
Kimberly Wilson of the Environmental Integrity Project noted that the plant would be near two schools in an area "already overburdened" with industrial pollution and hazardous waste dumping, and with one of the state's highest death rates for chronic respiratory disease. She also warned that the plant would run afoul of permitting and enforcement requirements in the federal Clean Air Act if approved by the PSC.
But Andy Dize, president of the Community of Curtis Bay Association, said residents were not as concerned with air pollution as they were with getting jobs in a community struggling with crime and poverty.
"Air pollution used to be a big issue decades ago," said Dize. But with the gradual closure of factories in the area over the years, emissions have declined. Community leaders have been talking with Energy Answers for nearly two years, he said, and are confident that the plant can be operated with proper oversight from the state so that pollution will not be a problem. "Energy Answers provides a bright spot for the community," he said.
Carol Eshelman, executive director of the Brooklyn & Curtis Bay Coalition, said pollution levels in the community had dropped signficantly since Constellation Energy's Brandon Shores power plant across the city line in Anne Arundel County installed scrubbers last winter. Meanwhile, she noted, 40 percent of the community's residents are either unemployed or underemployed.
Two legislators representing the area, state Sen. George Della and Del. Brian McHale, also endorsed the project.
Della said he understands the concerns of environmentalists, but wondered where they were a decade or more ago when residents were pressing to curb industrial pollution. He said it would be up to the PSC to decide if the plant meets federal pollution laws, but urged state regulators not to "shoot it down."
"It's not too many good things come their way,'' he said of the struggling community, adding that "there are too darn many people in this community, in this city, who don't even have unemployment benefits."
Nick Hundt, a member of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 193, said he and his union members have helped build and operate many industrial facilities. This one, he said, would feature "state of the art" pollution controls, unlike many existing power plants in the area.
"The back end of this thing will be so clean it'll be like a park," he contended.
The plant, which would be financed in part by up to $300 million in federal economic stimulus funds, would reduce the amount of waste going into landfills or incinerators, company officials say. Talks are under way with local governments in the region to secure contracts for waste, officials say. The municipal waste would be shredded at one or more processing facilities to be determined before being trucked to the power plant. The ash from the burning would be used to create aggregate building material, officials say.
Environmentalists, though, counter that the plant would undermine recycling efforts in the region by providing local governments a financial incentive to supply the facility with trash.
The PSC docket # for the case is 9199. For more, go here.
(Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)