San Angelo (Tex.) Standard-Times, October 12, 2006


Local Resident Offers Information, Education About Plant

By Allie Devereaux , San Angelo Resident

The city of San Angelo is poised to implement a multimillion-dollar waste gasification project that has not been successfully implemented anywhere in the country, and has an established track record of failure. Check out the report, "Incinerators in Disguise," on the Internet ( Incinerators_In_Disguise_CaseStudies.pdf).

San Angelo City Council members have been presented with much information that illuminates the high potential for economic risk as well as health and environmental hazards related to this industry. They have been asked to present a public response to this information but have refused.

Instead, they have relied exclusively on unsubstantial information provided by the soliciting corporation, whose only municipal solid waste gasification plant was closed after an explosion requiring the evacuation of an entire neighborhood in Germany.

The city has taken at face value claims of "no emissions" when claims such as these have been dispelled in dozens of communities across the nation. The EPA's own data show that gasification units create and release dioxins, furans, nitrogen oxides, lead, mercury, cadmium, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, just to name a few. Studies reveal that the accumulation of industrial pollutants is contributing to the cancer epidemic in our society.

In a presentation made at a City Council meeting, a Siemens representative said he "didn't know of or care" where any other waste gasification plants were operating in the country.

No one knows how much power this plant will generate, but it is certain that materials such as plastic and PVC will generate more energy than cardboard, creating a disincentive to properly sort through the garbage and remove from the feedstock the substances most likely to produce volatile compounds. The same Siemens representative confirmed that they did plan to burn PVCs at this plant.

The city has shown tremendous irresponsibility in its ability to manage the wastewater treatment facility, where large amounts of potentially hazardous wastewater from this plant will be processed. Wastewater from gasification or pyrolysis facilities includes liquid discharges from gas cleaning and cooling, blowdown and other boiler wastewater.

Not only is there the risk from wastewater discharge, but the pollution emitted from the stack on this plant will be concentrated in the Concho River watershed. Both the wastewater treatment facility and the city farm (where the plant is proposed) are located on the Concho River -- a vital and precious resource not only for our city, but to many other communities who depend on the diverse water system of the Concho Valley for survival.

Here are just a few instances of mismanagement at the city farm:

n In the '80s the city was sued for irrigating its fields with improperly treated sewer water, compromising the air and water quality of the surrounding area.

n Similarly, just more than a year ago during heavy rains, they attempted to divert sewage sludge runoff from their sludge composting pits into a gully that terminates into the Concho River before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was alerted and prohibited this maneuver.

n Banned chemicals have been applied to fields at the city farm, requiring six inches of soil to be removed and treated as hazardous waste.

The city regularly impedes the natural flow of the Concho River down stream from town despite orders from the state. As a result, the river is usually dry, river banks are severely eroded, the river bottom is deeply silted, and more than 10,000 old pecan trees have died off on the stretch of river from the wastewater treatment plant to O.H. Ivie Reservoir.

The Concho River is one of the key water sources for O.H. Ivie Reservoir, and therefore, a key source of water for San Angelo. It has great historical and ecological significance as well. We must realize that the Concho is more than just an idyllic downtown attraction and that its integrity cannot be maintained by compounding water in the downtown and Nasworthy areas. It is a watershed system that continues past the Bell Street bridge to Lake Ivie. What happens on this stretch of the river is just as important as what occurs in the city limits.

The city owns thousands of acres on the Concho River northeast of town. Let's envision a portion of these agricultural lands (lands acquired with the help of our tax dollars) being utilized for something more resourceful than a waste incinerating power plant.

How about a solar and wind farm instead? Imagine a prairie restoration project and learning center where the public can hike, bike and canoe and see bison roaming free. People could learn about renewable energy, native grasses, wildflowers, wildlife, watershed and grassland ecology, and the archeological and anthropological history of the Concho River Valley. This would be a community development that would be a sought-after tourist attraction and provide the community of San Angelo with some additional, and desperately needed, recreational and educational opportunities, while simultaneously protecting our water resources ...

We have a methane problem at our landfill but responsible solutions do not involve burning trash.

The city of Denton has won an award for their methane solution. They harvest the methane and use the gas to fuel their entire fleet of garbage vehicles. We get a fuel surcharge on our trash bill whereas Denton does not.

Around 15 percent of Austin Energy's 665,000,000 GreenChoice Kwh subscriptions come from electricity generated from landfill methane gas. Austin's other green energy sources come from wind and solar sources.

In Maryland Heights, Missouri, the ecology club at Pattonville High School convinced the school board to use the landfill gas as an alternative fuel for its boilers. The use of methane in this application has saved the school $37,000 annually in expenditures.

The Goddard Space Flight Center landfill gas project uses methane to heat water and buildings at the Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland.

In Arlington they use landfill gas to power the wastewater treatment facility.

A similar project is utilized in Portland, Oregon, where microturbines, costing only $300,000, generate energy for the wastewater treatment plant from methane sewer gas, saving the city $61,000 annually.

Why doesn't the city consider harvesting the methane from the landfill and the water treatment plant and using this fuel for something more innovative and less hazardous than burning trash to create a dirty, low energy synthetic gas? Syngas has about one-quarter of the energy potential of natural gas.

The sketchy financial estimate the city has put forth are realistically much lower as we factor for the loss of chemical energy associated with materials diverted away during the pre-treatment process, for the energy consumed by the pretreatment process, for the energy required to transport the trash from the landfill, and other maintenance and operational costs.

If this technology is so "clean" and "green" why have none of the "green" cities in the United States built one of these plants for waste management and supplemental energy? Why did Alameda County throw out the gasification solicitors after a lengthy inquiry and an initial $500,000 investment? Why didn't Portland or Austin or Saint Paul get one years ago? A Los Angeles ghetto even recently managed to avert a gasification-waste-to-energy scheme. The executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association said himself that the gasification industry has sought during three different legislative sessions to have municipal solid waste designated as a renewable energy source and have consistently been denied.

The city has hastily indebted us for $400,000. That was a mistake. Hopefully, we won't lose millions -- or our peace of mind -- as other communities have. If the plant fails to meet emissions requirements, or energy expectations, and is shut down as others have been, the city will be left holding the bill.

Not only does this project have a great potential to cause another economic disaster for the city, but it will risk the health and safety of our community and retard our development toward sustainable waste management strategies. We must hold our elected officials accountable and remind them that they must represent the people of our community and promote "developments" with health, safety, economic responsibility and foresight in mind.


Allie Devereaux was born and raised in San Angelo and has attended many city council and county commissioners' meetings, in particular when water issues and the gasification plant are on the agenda. She and her husband, David, own Wholesome Foods in San Angelo.

Copyright (c) 2006 Standard-Times