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Area Municipal Officials To Tour Trash-To-Energy Plant

DAN UHLINGER

June 14, 2008

Officials of several towns that have an agreement with the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority met Friday to explore alternatives to their dependence on the agency.

East Hartford Mayor Melody A. Currey said the officials, who met at her office, would like to hire a consultant with no ties to CRRA to study municipal waste and find less expensive ways to dispose of it.

The officials, from the same eight towns that also belong to the Metropolitan District Commission, decided recently to form the separate group for studying trash.

"We would like to expand the group to all of the 70 towns that make up the Mid-Connecticut Project," Currey said.

Rocky Hill Mayor Tony LaRosa said the towns need to band together. "Our tipping fees keep going up and up," he said. "I just think that CRRA has become a bureaucracy unto itself, and the bureaucracy keeps getting bigger and bigger. And who's paying for that? We need to break away from CRRA."

Last year, LaRosa toured a trash-to-energy test plant in New Bedford, Mass., that is operated by Ze-gen Inc. of Boston. Ze-gen founder William Davis believes that he has found the technology, which the plant now uses, that could lower the cost of trash disposal for municipalities dramatically, LaRosa said. LaRosa estimated that the cost could go from the current $72 a ton down to $30 or less.

Several town officials, intrigued by that possibility, said they plan to tour the New Bedford plant next week.

Currey said the tour was arranged not by the towns, but by a reporter for the Journal Inquirer of Manchester. Elaine Sabo, an editor at the newspaper, confirmed that the reporter "organized everything."

LaRosa said the towns could partner with Ze-gen, which could build and operate plants in Connecticut. "Towns would get a percentage of the income from the sale of the electricity from the plants," LaRosa said. "And these plants can be made small enough to be on about 8 acres of land.

"You could build 10 or 15 of these plants in the state, and garbage would not have to be trucked far. It wouldn't have to go to Franklin," he said. "And all of the sludge from the operation could be recycled."

The 70 towns in the Mid-Connecticut Project are locked into a contract with the authority to send their waste to CRRA's trash-burning plant in Hartford. The agreement ends in 2012. Several mayors said they must be prepared for the end of the contract.

"2012 is not a lot of time," said Paul Nonnenmacher, a CRRA spokesman.

"The towns are doing exactly what they should be doing in looking at all of their alternatives," he said. "If they find a better idea, the taxpayers are going to demand that they do it. I'm a taxpayer, and I would demand the same thing."

Vernon Mayor Jason L. McCoy said his town would like to end the agreement before 2012 and is considering sending trash to a site in Manchester. McCoy also has hired an outside law firm to represent the town in a lawsuit over CRRA's tipping fee and budget for 2007-08. Nonnenmacher declined to comment on Vernon's action.

CRRA has received intense criticism for years for having increased the tipping fee it charges towns for trash disposal. A significant amount of the increases have resulted from CRRA's failed $220 million agreement in 2001 with the now bankrupt Enron Corp.

The authority lent the $220 million collateral-free to Enron, which stopped repaying the money a couple of months later, when it filed for bankruptcy. In a lawsuit filed in 2003 against CRRA, lawyers for the towns contended that they were being forced to pay higher tipping fees for the disposal of municipal trash because of the financial loss incurred in the Enron deal.

Last June, a Superior Court judge awarded the towns $35.9 million, but CRRA has appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. The appeal is pending.

New Technology

Officials for Ze-gen said the company was founded to develop advanced gasification technology, which converts renewable biomass waste streams into energy and other beneficial products with virtually zero emissions.

The products of the gasification process are a syngas, primarily carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which in a full-scale Ze-gen gasification plant would be used as fuel to generate electricity.

The New Bedford prototype plant, which began operating in 2007, does not yet use municipal waste, but the company plans to begin using it in the fall. In an interview earlier this week with Jeff Leech, 46, the company's vice president of operations for New Bedford, he said the new technology has endless possibilities.

Leech, who grew up in East Hartford, left town after graduating from high school and joined the Navy, where he was placed in the nuclear power program. Leech became a nuclear instructor and served on three submarines.

After serving 17 years in the Navy, Leech ran landfills and recycling operations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for about 10 years. A couple of years ago, Leech met Davis and was hired to run the test plant.

"My background is nuclear power, and here I am playing with a furnace," he said. "It's 100-year-old technology, and we're making it into new technology."

More information about Ze-gen is available by visiting the company's website at www.ze-gen.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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