- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Self-proclaimed environmentalists dream of a future powered by wind and solar energy. The free market, of course, knows this isn’t going to happen. Every windmill and solar farm on the planet would go bankrupt if the daily truckloads of taxpayer cash ever missed a delivery. Sunny days and stiff breezes can’t always be counted on, but leftists want to appear “hip” by embracing these retro technologies. All the while, they miss out an an alternative energy source that actually makes sense: garbage.

Right under the noses of the leftists in the city of Alexandria and in Fairfax and Montgomery counties, a trio of plants are busy setting fire to piles of trash, creating up to 157 megawatts of power. The process can consume as much as 4,600 tons of refuse daily, which ought to be good news for anyone who really cares about the environment.

Instead, those asserting a deeper affection for Mother Earth prefer to dote on 150-foot-tall bird-slicing machines and reflective panels sprawled across acres of formerly pristine land. According to the Energy Information Administration, taxpayers spend about $24 for each megawatt-hour these renewables produce. By comparison, government support for nuclear energy amounts to $1.59 and for coal to 44 cents. Waste-to-energy plants come in at a mere 13 cents, the lowest of any source of electricity. “We are making power today essentially with no subsidy,” said Paul Gilman, senior vice president at Covanta Energy, in an interview with The Washington Times.

Waste-to-energy is not a substitute for nuclear or coal power, technologies capable of generating much greater output at a lower cost. Waste-energy plants turn a profit in areas where land is relatively scarce and municipalities pay hefty tipping fees to take garbage off their hands. These plants also sell electricity and recycle metals recovered from the burning process. There is no need to force consumers to use separate bins, although Mr. Gilman said that from his company’s perspective, the process is more efficient in conjunction with municipal recycling programs for paper and plastic.

The other issue with burning trash is that the natural byproduct of combustion is carbon dioxide. There are those who stubbornly cling to the notion that mankind’s exhalation of this harmless, odorless gas essential to life on this planet is simultaneously destroying the planet. That creates a grudge against incineration, which makes little sense, even by their rules. The alternative to burning is burying trash in a landfill. As organic material decomposes, methane - a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide - is released. So even if you buy into the global-warming hysteria, waste-to-energy works.

Nonetheless, trash power retains the status of a renewable-energy stepchild. This suggests that the true goal of pushing to replace efficient electricity sources with pointless, ineffective ones is really to turn back the clock on progress.

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