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Wheelabrator to shutter Claremont incinerator Sept. 30

In an unexpected announcement Wednesday, Wheelabrator Technologies said it will shut down its waste-to-energy incinerator in Claremont this fall for financial reasons.

The facility, which has about two dozen employees, had been a lightning rod for controversy for decades, particularly in regard 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 as 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.

“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.”

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, 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.

As for where the city
will dispose of waste once the incinerator shuts down, City Manager Guy Santagate said officials first need to determine the available options.

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