Can trash-to-energy plant in Penacook burn construction debris? 

  • 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

  • Crane operator Dan Parkinson maneuvers a grapple to move trash to the feed chute which leads to the boiler at the Wheelabrator facility in Penacook on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Parkinson has been with the company almost 27 years. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • A grapple crane is used to move trash at the Wheelabrator facility in Penacook on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

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

Monitor staff
Published: 4/21/2019 5:30:17 PM

A long debate over whether the waste-to-energy plant in Penacook should be allowed to burn debris from construction sites along with trash is back before the Legislature, although the issue is moot for the moment.

A bill that would prevent the power plant from burning processed wood from what is known as C&D, short for “construction and demolition” debris, has been approved by the House and will be considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. No hearing has yet been scheduled.

Regardless of what happens, however, Wheelabrator, the company that operates the trash-burning power plant, won’t be able to burn the debris until it re-applies for the necessary permit, according to Barbara Dorfschmidt, program manager in the Air Resources Division of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

In 2018 the plant received renewal of what is known as a Title V permit from DES, which regulates how much and what type of air pollution can be released.

At the time, Dorfschmidt said, rules for the burning of C&D were not finalized and so the Title V permit did not review potential emissions from such material. The C&D rules were completed in September 2018, she said, but the company has not applied for permission to add the material to the trash that it burns. It’s unclear whether the company plans to apply for a license to burn C&D in the future.

In the past, Wheelabrator has said that it wants the ability to burn some processed wood from C&D in winter because the amount of trash declines during that season. Further, trash tends to be wet from snow and hard to burn. As a result, the firm says it sometimes has to burn propane to keep the incinerators going, a cost that could be replaced with C&D.

Opponents have long balked at the proposal out of concern that even processed construction debris may contain toxins in paint, such as arsenic or lead, that could be released into the air or dangerously consolidated into the ash left over after burning.

“The concern remains valid today,” said state Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, a sponsor of the bill (HB 358) to ban the burning of C&D. “Do what you will to it, to try to clean it, pulverize it, make it unrecognizable, you’re still left with material that has these contaminants in it.”

Wheelabrator argues that emissions controls on its smokestack and regular testing by the state of the ash it produces controls the pollution.

New Hampshire banned C&D incineration in 2007, but in 2016 the Legislature undid that prohibition and allowed the Wheelabrator incinerator to burn up to 10,000 tons of material between Nov. 1 and April 1. The plant burns around 200,000 tons of trash each year under contract with a number of area communities – although not with Concord, which landfills its trash. It produces around 50,000 tons of ash, which is sent to a Wheelabrator landfill in Massachusetts.

The bill currently being considered would end the exception that was created in 2016.

Municipal trash has been burned in the Penacook plant since 1989. The seven-story-tall plant produces up to 14 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 14,000 homes, although it uses about 1.5 megawatts to operate the plant.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@ or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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