With over three decades of experience, Jack Ristau has been a driving force in developing, constructing, and operating municipal infrastructure facilities, including solid waste management and energy recovery projects, in the United States and overseas. Since joining Wheelabrator in 1984, he has developed many notable resource recovery business activities as well as directed several projects in the Far East, Mexico, Turkey, United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Barbados. Currently, Ristau is director of business development and manages waste-to-energy project opportunities in the United States and Canada, supervising proposal development and customer contract negotiations. Prior to joining Wheelabrator, Ristau held project management positions at MITRE Corporation, Hayden, Harding and Buschanan Engineers, Inc., and Metcalf and Eddy, Inc. Ristau holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Penn State and a Masters of Science degree in Industrial Management from Northeastern University.
AltEnergyMag Interview - Waste-to-Energy
Jack Ristau - Wheelabrator Technologies
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1. In general what would a waste-to-energy project entail and what scale is necessary to make it feasible?
Commercial scale waste-to-energy plants in the U. S. are being operated in sizes ranging from 200 tons per day to approximately 3,000 tons per day. The selected processing capacity of a facility is a function of a number of technical considerations (i.e., the amount of waste remaining after recycling to be processed, the capital and operating cost of the facility and the price paid for the renewable energy produced) and the waste-to-energy customer’s long-term solid waste planning goals (i.e., reduction in carbon footprint, benefits of a stable domestic source or renewable energy, stability of disposal costs). It has been shown in the U. S., Europe and Asia that there is no single threshold size that makes waste-to-energy projects feasible.
2. Are any new projects underway? Are companies looking at RFPs for new projects? For expansions? If so, from who?
We are seeing many growth opportunities in the U.S. including counties, municipalities and solid waste authorities issuing RFP’s for new “proven technology” plants; expansions of existing facilities in order to increase capacity; and acquisitions of existing plants owned by other companies or municipalities.
We have responded to requests for proposals from the City of Los Angeles, California for one project, and the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority for two separate projects in Maryland. In addition, Palm Beach County, Florida will soon be issuing a request for proposals for a second plant and other communities in the U.S. and Canada are seriously considering waste-to-energy projects. Also, two counties in Florida have completed expansions of their existing waste-to-energy plants and new projects are underway.
3. What are the problems?
Large infrastructure projects – whether they are power plants, recycling facilities, waste water plants, public works projects, roads or bridges – all must demonstrate that they meet the needs of the communities they are intended to serve, are financially viable and environmentally sound. Good technological and financial capabilities and an open dialogue with community and government leaders are essential to achieving success.
Waste-to-energy facilities must also face the challenge of selling power. One of the key positive trends facing the waste-to-energy industry today is its increasing inclusion in renewable portfolio standards (RPS). These standards are being established on a state-by-state basis, requiring electric utility companies to purchase a certain percentage of their energy from renewable energy generators, such as waste-to-energy plants. Currently, 24 states recognize waste-to-energy as renewable energy, allowing utilities to include the technology in their energy mix. While there is no federal RPS, federal agencies are also required to obtain a portion of their energy needs from renewable energy sources, such as waste-to-energy, under existing regulations.
At Wheelabrator, we continue to promote the benefits of adopting waste-to-energy technology. These benefits extend far beyond renewable energy milestones. Waste-to-energy is recognized by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy as a means to offset the emissions of greenhouse gases. Due to the high percentage of biogenic material (organic) in trash, the displacement of conventional fossil fueled electric power with renewable energy, and the recovery and recycling of ferrous and other metals from the ash residue, every ton of trash converted into clean, renewable energy at a waste-to-energy plant offsets approximately one ton of greenhouse gas emissions.
4. With an administration sympathetic to environmental initiatives in power now, what does that mean to waste-to-energy?
We see this as a good thing for waste-to-energy. Waste-to-energy helps solve several challenges: energy independence, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and waste volume reduction. It makes environmental sense to harness the energy from waste remaining after recycling to create electricity.
5. What economic benefits (jobs, capital expenditure, tax revenue, etc.) result from a typical waste-to-energy project in the near term and over time?
As will any significant construction project that might employ 1,000 workers at the peak of the construction, waste-to-energy projects bring significant direct and indirect benefits to the local economy. Payroll for the construction workers, most of which would be from the local area, are in the millions of dollars annually for two to three years. The indirect or spin off benefits of this on the local area are in the millions. Many construction-related goods and services would also be bought locally, again boosting the economy.
Once in operation, the waste-to-energy facility would employ 40-60 people, depending upon the size of the facility, with an annual payroll of $3-5 million. The facility would also purchase millions in local goods and services each year, again positively reverberating through the local economy.
6. What do environmental organizations think of waste-to-energy? For years, they believed waste-to-energy plants polluted. Have their views changed with the addition of new scrubbing technology ten years ago?
Proponents and opponents of the use of waste to energy technology often have differing opinions on the matter. What matters is what objective third-parties say. For example, after reviewing hundreds of waste-to-energy facility tests , evaluation of facility operating data and other environmental information, the U.S. EPA has states that waste-to-energy plants generate electricity “with less environmental impact that almost any other source of electricity.” The U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Energy, European Union’s Environmental Agency German environmental agency and other governmental authorities, universities and independent organizations recognize the importance of waste-to-energy in helping to reduce climate change impacts by offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. European Parliament’s Environmental Committee unanimously voted to classify waste-to-energy as “recovery” not disposal.
7. How is the waste-to-energy issue involved with Rep Waxman’s cap and trade systems? How do cap and trade and waste-to-energy fit together? What is SWANA’s position on the Waxman legislation?
The Waxman-Markey Bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives, recognizes the value of waste-to-energy by including waste-to-energy as a renewable energy source in the Renewable Electricity Standard. The bill also recognizes the beneficial aspects of waste-to-energy with regard the climate change by not including waste-to-energy under the federal emissions cap.
On a life cycle basis, waste-to-energy technology prevents the emission of greenhouse gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere by power generation from fossil fuels. The U.S. EPA talks about the greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits of waste-to-energy plants in its publication entitled “Solid Waste Management and Greenhouse Gases: A Life-Cycle Assessment of Emissions and Sinks” 3rd Edition, September 2006.
EPA describes combustion of municipal solid waste at waste-to-energy plants as resulting in avoided GHG emissions at electric utilities and metals production facilities. Waste-to-energy produces renewable electricity that displaces electricity that would otherwise, be produced in an electric utility power plant that burns fossil fuel. U.S. EPA also credits waste-to-energy plants with reducing energy consumption at steel mills through recovering ferrous and non-ferrous metal (particularly steel) for recycling. Use of recycled metal to produce new steel significantly reduces energy consumption and GHG emissions as compared to virgin metal production. Overall EPA finds that waste-to-energy reduces GHG emissions when taking these two benefits into consideration.