Cloudy
29°
Cloudy
Hi 35° | Lo 21°

Wheelabrator Concord picks up where we leave off

  • Dan Parkinson, a crane operator at Wheelabrator Concord, works at his post at the company's facility in Concord on Friday afternoon, May 2, 2014 like he has for the last 15 years. He takes trash brought in and drops it into the furnace a crane full at a time. Parkinson was one of the employees honored for his 25 years with the company during a celebration on Friday.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Dan Parkinson, a crane operator at Wheelabrator Concord, works at his post at the company's facility in Concord on Friday afternoon, May 2, 2014 like he has for the last 15 years. He takes trash brought in and drops it into the furnace a crane full at a time. Parkinson was one of the employees honored for his 25 years with the company during a celebration on Friday.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • A peek inside the furnace at the Wheelabrator Concord facility during a tour reveals a red hot process. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    A peek inside the furnace at the Wheelabrator Concord facility during a tour reveals a red hot process.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Dan Parkinson, a crane operator at Wheelabrator Concord, works at his post at the company's facility in Concord on Friday afternoon, May 2, 2014 like he has for the last 15 years. He takes trash brought in and drops it into the furnace a crane full at a time. Parkinson was one of the employees honored for his 25 years with the company during a celebration on Friday.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • A peek inside the furnace at the Wheelabrator Concord facility during a tour reveals a red hot process. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Come trash day, many people lug their bags to the curb, plop them down and never think of them again.

But, for Wheelabrator Concord, this step marks the beginning of the company’s elaborate waste-to-energy process that involves turning local trash into electricity.

On Friday, the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of its plant, which is in Penacook, which generates up to 14 megawatts of electricity daily, enough to power roughly 14,000 homes.

Each day, the facility on 11 Whitney Road burns up to 500 tons of residential and commercial waste that is collected from more than 24 communities in the Concord area, said Wheelabrator Concord General Manager John LaRiviere. The heat generated from that thermal process produces high-pressure steam, which is then converted into electrical energy.

“You might see a power plant that uses natural gas, coal or oil, we use the nonrecyclable material as a fuel,” said LaRiviere, who has been working at the plant since it opened in 1989.

Since then, Wheelabrator Concord has generated 2.5 million megawatts of electricity by burning enough waste to fill a line of tractor-trailer trucks between Concord and Los Angeles, LaRiviere said at the anniversary ceremony held at the plant Friday afternoon.

“I want to say congratulations and thank you to all of the employees here . . . for what you are doing collectively to help ensure protection of our environment for the long term,” said Thomas Burack, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services. The Penacook facility safely destroys solid waste and recovers energy, which he said helps to reduce

overall reliance of fossil fuels.

During the hourlong ceremony, speakers had to pause several times as large trash trucks came barreling by the tent erected in the plant’s parking lot.

Each day, Wheelabrator Concord takes in roughly 700 tons of municipal solid waste, LaRiviere said, which is more fuel than it uses daily. But the plant operates 24/7 and the reserves are critical to keep the incinerator powered on nights and weekends, when trash isn’t being dropped off.

On Friday, the storage bay was piled high with waste, including several heaps of Concord’s purple trash bags.

The amount and type of trash can act as a reflection of what is happening in society, said several employees. During the holiday season, crane operator and 25-year employee Dan Parkinson said he sees lots of wrapping paper. In the fall, leaves show up in the pile. In spring and summer, the sheer volume of trash increases because people are doing more.

It can even be an indicator of the economy, said Wheelabrator Technologies President Mark Weidman. Waste values decline in a bad economy because people are not buying as much, he said.

Another trend LaRiviere has noticed is that people are recycling more. “We embrace that,” he said.

Parkinson, as a crane operator, gets to know the trash that arrives at the plant. He has to, in order to feed the fire and keep it operating at full capacity. Sitting in a pilot chair surrounded by windows, he overlooks the vast storage bin.

From there he maneuvers a giant claw, scooping up piles of trash that trucks drop off and then stacking them in rows, making sure that the type of trash is well distributed. Each claw-full he drops into the incinerator has to be well balanced, to burn evenly. A pile of cardboard for example, burns up really quickly, he said. After a snow or rainstorm, the trash that gets dropped off is wet. Parkinson needs to dry it out before sending it to the fire.

“I’m like a chef out there, part chef, part crane operator,” he said. “We have to make adjustments to stay at 100 percent.”

The waste is burned at temperatures over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“What you throw out in the trash is pretty much ash once we’re done with it,” LaRiviere said. Then, metals are separated from the ash before it is trucked to a landfill in Franklin. According to a Wheelabrator fact sheet, the process reduces the overall volume of trash by more than 90 percent.

New Hampshire law supports integrated waste disposal, including incineration, for trash that can’t be reused, recycled or composted, according to a state DES fact sheet published in 2013. But, it said, a key concern for both public health and the environment are the air emissions released during the incineration process, which can include acid gases, nitrogen oxides and dioxins, and furans.

“Incineration of waste can produce some very dangerous pollution from an air toxins point of view,” said Seth Kaplan, vice president for policy and climate advocacy at Massachusetts Conservation Law Foundation. And “when you create a facility that has a need basically for solid waste as fuel, you are basically creating an incentive to generate waste.”

The Wheelabrator Concord plant uses several mechanisms to control emissions such as mercury and metals, LaRiviere said. The company’s permits set limits for regulated air emissions.

“Waste-to-energy plants use advanced environmental control systems to meet or exceed state and federal standards while producing clean, renewable energy,” said company spokeswoman Michelle Nadeau. “We have consistently shown we operate well below these stringent standards designed to protect public health and the environment.”

The technology works and it has provided great economic and environmental benefits, Weidman said. Wheelabrator Technologies, a subsidiary of Houston-based Waste Management, operates 17 waste-to-energy facilities across the country. The Concord plant, he said, operates at 95 percent availability, down only for scheduled maintenance.

“There are hundreds, thousands of plants that are using this technology,” he said. “Very few have achieved this level of performance, and we make renewable energy every day.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

Legacy Comments2

Well, that's interesting. But although I understand the part about keeping some "fuel" in reserve, if it burns "up to 500 tons a day" but "takes in roughly 700 tons" each day, what do they do with the extra 200 tons per day?

On Friday, the storage bay was piled high with waste, including several heaps of Concord’s purple trash bags.

Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.