Officials from the five municipalities under contract with the Covanta trash-to-energy plant in Wallingford are discussing a potential amended agreement that would turn the plant into a transfer station.
Meriden, Wallingford, Cheshire, Hamden and North Haven all send waste to the 10-acre plant on South Cherry Street. The facility is capable of processing 420 tons of solid waste per day. By burning trash, up to 11 megawatts of energy can be generated daily and sold to Connecticut Light & Power.
But the amount of waste being sent to the plant is down significantly due to increased recycling, according to Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson.
“Absent an advantageous energy deal,” he said, Covanta is not in an ideal economic situation. Company officials are asking the five municipalities to consider an amended agreement, Jackson said. With the agreement, the trash-to-energy plant would become a transfer station that sends waste elsewhere for processing.
Covanta has been considering the change “since they took over the facility” in 2010, Jackson said.
“They’re really the ones keeping their eye on the bottom line,” he said.
Covanta “always evaluates our plants and looks at their viability,” said James Regan, a spokesman for the New Jersey-based company. But “operations of the Wallingford facility remain status quo as an energy-from-waste facility,” he said. “No definitive decision has been made regarding changes to that facility of any kind.”
There are three Covanta trash-to-energy plants in the state. The Wallingford plant, located at 530 South Cherry St., came into Covanta’s control in July 2010 after it was sold by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. Meriden, Wallingford, Cheshire, Hamden and North Haven entered into a 20-year agreement with Covanta in 2010.
Leaders from each town, along with Covanta officials, make up the policy board for the Wallingford Regional Solid Waste Project. The board meets regularly.
Recently, the board has held executive sessions — discussions closed to the public — to discuss the proposed agreement with Covanta. The board first held a private discussion during its regular meeting April 16. On April 22, the Wallingford Town Council held an executive session to discuss the same topic. The board held another closed session during a special meeting April 30. Another private policy board meeting to discuss the agreement is set for today at 2 p.m. in Wallingford Town Hall.
Reached for comment Tuesday, Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone and North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda declined to comment on the specifics of the agreement, citing the private nature of negotiations. Both officials did acknowledge that the amount of waste being sent to the plant is declining.
“There’s been a proposal for us to amend our existing contract,” Freda said. “It could be beneficial to the towns and would be beneficial to Covanta.”
Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and Meriden City Manager Larry Kendzior did not return requests for comment Tuesday. Doreen Zaback, Wallingford’s resource recovery project coordinator, also did not return a request for comment. Jackson said he was willing to speak openly about the proposed agreement because he is “fundamentally opposed to private meetings.”
In July 2013, Cheryl Thibeault of Covanta said that waste tonnage was down 5 percent since 2010, according to the minutes of the July 17, 2013 Wallingford Regional Solid Waste Project meeting.
When the agreement was reached with Covanta in 2010, each municipality agreed to pay a tipping fee of $65 per ton of waste sent to the plant. As of July 1, 2014, the tipping fee will be $70.30, Milone said. According to the agreement, since the plant is located in Wallingford, the town is eligible for an annual $1.6 million payment in lieu of taxes. In fiscal year 2012-13, that payment was $869,694, according to the town’s 2014-15 budget. The 2013-14 payment was estimated at $900,000, and the 2014-15 estimate is $850,000.
Jackson said he isn’t yet certain how an amended agreement to create a transfer station would affect municipalities under contract.
“Those are active discussions,” he said, adding that there is no agreement on paper.
What’s important right now is handling risk management, Jackson said. “We need to manage our long-term risk. That garbage has to get picked up, and it has to go to a reliable location.”
The goal would be to have an amended agreement by July 1, he said. July is when the new fiscal year starts and when the original contract was signed in 2010, so “for many reasons it seems to make sense,” Jackson said.
A bill passed by the legislature in early May aims to boost recycling throughout the state. It requires that the CRRA be renamed the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority. By July 1, 2016, the authority is required to work with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to redevelop the statewide solid waste management plan, including a strategy to recycle 60 percent of the solid waste generated in the state after Jan. 1, 2024. The strategy includes the required modernization of solid waste management infrastructure statewide to promote recycling. The bill awaits the governor’s signature.
It’s not a bad thing that the amount of waste sent to the trash-to-energy plant in Wallingford is down, Jackson said. With increased recycling efforts, “tonnage should be down,” he said.