Basic mathematical errors will doom incinerator project

CLEVELAND — Cleveland Public Power’s proposal to build a garbage incinerator on Ridge Road is premised on the idea of turning garbage into pellets and then burning them as fuel.  Although Cleveland Public Power Commissioner Ivan Henderson has never released a financing plan or finalized cost estimates for the project, he has repeatedly said the City will rely on the pellets to fuel the incinerator and that the project will generate additional revenue by selling excess pellets to various companies, including Cleveland Thermal.  Financing for the project would be based on the generation of electricity from the incinerator.

But an elementary mathematical calculation shows that the city has nowhere near enough garbage to make this project work, much less enough to sell “extra” pellets to make money.   The City of Cleveland only takes in enough trash from its own residents, as well as the residents of Lakewood and Brooklyn, to fuel a machine from one quarter to one third of the size of what they are planning.

When questioned about the volume of trash at public meetings, city officials have repeatedly stated they will produce enough trash to run the incinerator.  But this statement doesn’t hold up against the following simple math:

1) As proposed, the incinerator would run three combustion units at 96% capacity (Source: City of Cleveland comments to Ohio EPA, February 23, 2012). The units would run 24/7, and would require 420 tons per day total at full capacity.  The permit requests that they be allowed to operate at 96% capacity.

2) According to the project design 100 tons of garbage would be converted to  15-20 tons of fuel pellets.

3) Therefore, it would take from 2016 to 2700 tons of trash per day, or 735,840 to 986,025 tons of trash per year, to run the incinerator as proposed (3 lines at 96%).

4) The City of Cleveland takes in 230,000 tons of garbage per year at the Ridge Road transfer station, including the waste the City takes from Brooklyn and Lakewood.  Of this, 10,000 tons is now being recycled, leaving 220,000 tons available for incineration.  These numbers presume NO increase in the recycling program.

5) The City has announced it will continue to roll out its recycling program, with a goal of  25%  recycling.. This goal is much lower than surrounding communities, but even the 25% recycling rate would reduce the available garbage for the incinerator to 172,500 tons per year.

6) Therefore, the City would fall short of producing the garbage needed to run the incinerator by anywhere from 563,340 to 813,525 tons per year.

Why does this matter?

1) All of the projections for building and financing the incinerator will depend on how much electricity the incinerator can generate.  If it can generate less than a third or a half of what’s projected, the financial projections will completely fall apart, or the city will be stuck with paying double or triple the price of the projected price of the electricity.

2) The city could be forced to halt any expansion of its recycling program, since they will need every scrap of waste to “feed the machine” to run the incinerator.

3) The only way to get enough garbage would be to get other municipalities to agree to send their garbage to the incinerator, thereby doubling or tripling the truck traffic on Ridge Road.  Public opposition to increased truck traffic has been strong, and city officials have stated at several public meetings that they have dropped their plan to bring garbage in from other communities.

4) They could try to run the incinerator on other fuels, like natural gas, which would defeat the purpose of building a garbage-burning facility to “generate” electricity.

5) They will have no pellets available for sale to other entities like Cleveland Thermal, which is another pillar of their financial projections.

— Sandy Buchanan, Executive Director, Ohio Citizen Action

— Chris Trepal, Executive Director, Earth Day Coalition

— Brian J. Cummins, Cleveland City Council