There has been a lot of recent talk about the waste-to-energy incinerator in Camden as part of an innovative new microgrid project in the city. While some of the claims about emissions from the facility may sound scary and dangerous, it’s important to get the facts.
Some have said that the Camden facility is the largest polluter in the area, but that’s simply not true. They are cherry picking data from industrial “point sources” and not giving residents the true picture of emissions in the local air shed. In reality, the facility is a very small source of air pollution. For example, the facility accounts for only 1 percent of the nitrogen oxides emissions in the local air shed of Camden County and Philadelphia, while trucks, cars and other mobile sources make up 60 percent of these emissions.
Importantly, study after study from the U.S. and around the world has concluded that waste-to-energy facilities do not pose health risks to surrounding communities. In fact, in Europe, waste-to-energy plants are sited in urban centers like Copenhagen, Paris and Dublin, all densely populated cities, providing vital sources of baseload energy and heat, important attributes of critical infrastructure. This is exactly what is proposed with the Camden microgrid project and the benefits are numerous.
The Camden microgrid system will inject a crucial layer of dependability and resiliency by connecting the existing waste-to-energy facility--a source of reliable baseload power—to ensure the continued operation of essential public services, such as local hospitals, sanitation and sewage treatment. This, in turn, will serve to minimize the chances for a repeat of the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy when a large-scale power outage caused billions of gallons of untreated wastewater to be released.
The microgrid will also improve the sustainability of the waste-to-energy facility by enabling wastewater from the treatment plant to be reused. This will result in a significant reduction in drinking water usage and will lessen the stress on the local groundwater aquifer.
And despite the waste-to-energy facility being well below permitted levels and a small contributor to overall emissions in the area, we’re committed to doing even better. We are investing in a new, state-of-the-art emissions control system that will further reduce emissions.
It is hard to fathom how opponents can reconcile fighting this project and the safety and security it means for the local community. Such actions might lead one to conclude that their true motive is something other than the long-term sustainability of the city.
It’s important to focus on the real benefits the proposed Camden microgrid project seeks to provide, for the environment and city residents. There is simply no question that ensuring resiliency and reducing risks to critical operations in the City of Camden is a priority that is too important to ignore.
Paul Gilman is Covanta’s chief sustainability officer and a former assistant administrator for Research and Development and Science Advisor at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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