Wheelabrator Incinerator to Close in September
Claremont — In an unexpected announcement yesterday, Wheelabrator Technologies said it will shut down its waste-to-energy incinerator on Grissom Lane this fall for financial reasons.
The facility, which has about two dozen employees, had been a lightning rod for controversy for decades, particularly in regards to pollution from emissions produced by burning mountains of garbage. The company said it always followed state and federal regulations for emissions.
“Wheelabrator’s 200 ton-per-day waste-to-energy facility in Claremont will be taken out of service September 30, 2013, after nearly 27 years of successful operation,” the company said in a statement. “Several factors led to this difficult business decision including economic conditions in both the waste and energy markets and a constrained transportation network in the remote region of New Hampshire near the Vermont border as well of a lack of economies of scale inherent in a small power plant operating at a fraction of the size of Wheelabrator’s 16 other waste-to-energy facilities.”
The announcement was welcomed by longtime opponents such as Bill Gallagher, of Cornish, and Katie Lajoie, of Charlestown.
“This is really big,” said Gallagher, whose opposition to the incinerator was so vehement that he once was arrested in the early 1990s for refusing to leave a regional waste district meeting. “It is a reason to celebrate and a new beginning for Claremont. The biggest thing is the air pollution will go away. They took our throw-aways and turn them into pollution.”
Lajoie, who along with 30 other residents has a appeal pending before the state Department of Environmental Services challenging a proposed five-year operating permit for the plant, said shuttering the facility will be good for the region.
“Wheelabrator’s announcement that it is closing the incinerator is certainly exciting news,” Lajoie said in an email. “The people of Claremont and the rest of Sullivan County have worked hard to make this happen, and they deserve credit for their persistent efforts to stop the pollution that comes with incineration. This news provides a welcome boost for efforts to make waste reduction and recycling top priorities in our area.”
Lajoie said she does not know what will happen to the appeal before DES. Another hearing is scheduled for August 12.
When asked last night whether the persistent opposition to the plant since it went online in the late 1980s played a role in the decision to close, plant manager John LaRiviere said it did not and reiterated that the reasons were strictlty financial.
Despite claims by opponents that dioxins and heavy metals were being released into the air at dangerous levels, Wheelabrator officials have always pointed to the company’s environmental record and the facility’s consistent compliance with state and federal environmental standards with respect to plant emissions.
Construction of the plant, which used the burning garbage to generate electricity that was sold to the power grid, was approved in a controversial decision by the Claremont City Council in the 1980s after the council members elected not to put the question on whether to build the incinerator to a voter referendum.
Claremont had joined with 28 other New Hampshire and Vermont towns, some as far away as Meredith, N.H., to form the New Hampshire-Vermont Solid Waste Project that had a 20-year contract to deliver all trash to the incinerator through 2007. The project’s existence was marked by years of infighting, lawsuits and financial difficulties with the anti-incinerator group, Working on Waste, often in the thick of it.
New Hampshire towns went their separate ways when the project dissolved but many of the Vermont towns formed their own district.
The company said in its statement yesterday it would work to assist the 25 affected employees “in finding new job opportunities, keeping them fully advised of available positions within the Wheelabrator and Waste Management system.”
The company said that since beginning operation in 1987, the Claremont facility processed 1.7 million tons of solid waste, recycled more than 7,000 tons of ferrous metal and generated 800 million kilowatt hours of energy.
City Manager Guy Santagate said he received a call from LaRiviere late Tuesday informing him that the plant would stop accepting waste Sept. 16 and cease operations on Sept. 30.
Santagate said the company pays about $275,000 a year in taxes and about another $240,000 for water.
“They will continue to pay the taxes but the water use goes away,” he said. “It is not a small thing for the city, but the worst part is people losing their jobs. That is tough.”
As for where the city will dispose of waste once the incinerator shuts down, Santagate said officials first need to determine the available options.
According to its website, Wheelabrator pioneered the “waste-to-energy industry in the U.S. when it designed, built and operated the first commercially successful facility in Saugus, Mass., in 1975,” which still operates today. Wheelabrator’s currently operates 17 facilities with a combined processing capacity of more than 23,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste.
John Tuthill, of Acworth, who served as his town’s representative to the solid waste project for several years and was a staunch opponent of the incinerator, said yesterday that while the shut down is good news, it does not give towns much time to transition.
“Still, it is an opportunity,” Tuthill said. “I hope now the primary focus will be on recovery and recycle”
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com