Posts tagged ‘Denmark’

Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags

The lawyers and engineers who dwell in an elegant enclave here are at peace with the hulking neighbor just over the back fence: a vast energy plant that burns thousands of tons of household garbage and industrial waste, round the clock.

Far cleaner than conventional incinerators, this new type of plant converts local trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants, from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a decade ago.

In that time, such plants have become both the mainstay of garbage disposal and a crucial fuel source across Denmark, from wealthy exurbs like Horsholm to Copenhagen’s downtown area. Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.

With all these innovations, Denmark now regards garbage as a clean alternative fuel rather than a smelly, unsightly problem. And the incinerators, known as waste-to-energy plants, have acquired considerable cachet as communities like Horsholm vie to have them built.

Denmark now has 29 such plants, serving 98 municipalities in a country of 5.5 million people, and 10 more are planned or under construction. Across Europe, there are about 400 plants, with Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands leading the pack in expanding them and building new ones.

By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says — even though the federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies. There are only 87 trash-burning power plants in the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, and almost all were built at least 15 years ago.

Instead, distant landfills remain the end point for most of the nation’s trash. New York City alone sends 10,500 tons of residential waste each day to landfills in places like Ohio and South Carolina.

“Europe has gotten out ahead with this newest technology,” said Ian A. Bowles, a former Clinton administration official who is now the Massachusetts state secretary of energy.

Still, Mr. Bowles said that as America’s current landfills topped out and pressure to reduce heat-trapping gases grew, Massachusetts and some other states were “actively considering” new waste-to-energy proposals; several existing plants are being expanded. He said he expected resistance all the same in a place where even a wind turbine sets off protests.

Why Americans Are Reluctant

Matt Hale, director of the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, said the reasons that waste-to-energy plants had not caught on nationally were the relative abundance of cheap landfills in a large country, opposition from state officials who feared the plants could undercut recycling programs and a “negative public perception.” In the United States, individual states and municipalities generally decide what method to use to get rid of their waste.

Still, a 2009 study by the E.P.A. and North Carolina State University scientists came down strongly in favor of waste-to-energy plants over landfills as the most environmentally friendly destination for urban waste that cannot be recycled. Embracing the technology would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution, but also yield copious electricity, it said.

Yet powerful environmental groups have fought the concept passionately. “Incinerators are really the devil,” said Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Investing in garbage as a green resource is simply perverse when governments should be mandating recycling, she said. “Once you build a waste-to-energy plant, you then have to feed it. Our priority is pushing for zero waste.”

The group has vigorously opposed building a plant in New York City.

Even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has championed green initiatives and ranked Copenhagen’s waste-fueled heating on his list of environmental “best practices,” has shied away from proposing to get one built.

“It is not currently being pursued — not because of the technology, which has advanced, but because of the issue in selecting sites to build incinerators,” said Jason Post, the mayor’s deputy press secretary on environmental issues. “It’s a Nimby issue. It would take years of hearings and reviews.”

Nickolas J. Themelis, a professor of engineering at Columbia University and a waste-to-energy proponent, said America’s resistance to constructing the new plants was economically and environmentally “irresponsible.”

“It’s so irrational; I’ve almost given up with New York,” he said. “It’s like you’re in a village of Hottentots who look up and see an airplane — when everybody else is using airplanes — and they say, ‘No, we won’t do it, it’s too scary.’ ”

Acceptance in Denmark

Attitudes could hardly be more different in Denmark, where plants are placed in the communities they serve, no matter how affluent, so that the heat of burning garbage can be efficiently piped into homes.

Planners take pains to separate residential traffic from trucks delivering garbage, and some of the newest plants are encased in elaborate outer shells that resemble sculptures.

“New buyers are usually O.K. with the plant,” said Hans Rast, president of the homeowners’ association in Horsholm, who cut a distinguished figure in corduroy slacks and a V-neck sweater as he poured coffee in a living room of white couches and Oriental rugs.

“What they like is that they look out and see the forest,” he said. (The living rooms in this enclave of town houses face fields and trees, while the plant is roughly some 400 yards over a back fence that borders the homes’ carports). The lower heating costs don’t hurt, either. Eighty percent of Horsholm’s heat and 20 percent of its electricity come from burning trash.

Many countries that are expanding waste-to-energy capacity, like Denmark and Germany, typically also have the highest recycling rates; only the material that cannot be recycled is burned.

Waste-to-energy plants do involve large upfront expenditures, and tight credit can be a big deterrent. Harrisburg, Pa., has been flirting with bankruptcy because of a $300 million loan it took to reopen and refit an old public incinerator with the new technology.

But hauling trash is expensive, too. New York City paid $307 million last year to export more than four million tons of waste, mostly to landfills in distant states, Mr. Post said. Although the city is trying to move more of its trash by train or barge, much of it travels by truck, with heavy fuel emissions.

In 2009, a small portion of the city’s trash was processed at two 1990-vintage waste-to-energy plants in Newark and Hempstead, N.Y., owned by a private company, Covanta. The city pays $65 a ton for the service — the cheapest available way for New York City to get rid of its trash. Sending garbage to landfills is more expensive: the city’s costliest current method is to haul waste by rail to a landfill in Virginia.

While new, state-of-the-art landfills do collect the methane that emanates from rotting garbage to make electricity, they churn out roughly twice as much climate-warming gas as waste-to-energy plants do for the units of power they produce, the 2009 E.P.A. study found. Methane, the primary warming gas emitted by landfills, is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the gas released by burning garbage.

The study also concluded that waste-to-energy plants produced lower levels of pollutants than the best landfills did, but nine times the energy. Although new landfills are lined to prevent leaks of toxic substances and often capture methane, the process is highly inefficient, it noted.

Laws Spur New Technology

In Europe, environmental laws have hastened the development of waste-to-energy programs. The European Union severely restricts the creation of new landfill sites, and its nations already have binding commitments to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 2012 under the international pact known as the Kyoto Protocol, which was never ratified by the United States.

Garbage cannot easily be placed out of sight, out of mind in Europe’s smaller, densely populated countries, as it so often is in the United States. Many of the 87 waste-to-energy plants in the United States are in densely populated areas like Long Island and Cape Cod.

While these plants are generally two decades old, many have been progressively retrofitted with new pollution filters, though few produce both heat and power like the newest Danish versions.

In Horsholm only 4 percent of waste now goes to landfills, and 1 percent (chemicals, paints and some electronic equipment) is consigned to “special disposal” in places like secure storage vaults in an abandoned salt mine in Germany. Sixty-one percent of the town’s waste is recycled and 34 percent is incinerated at waste-to-energy plants.

From a pollution perspective, today’s energy-generating incinerators have little in common with the smoke-belching models of the past. They have arrays of newly developed filters and scrubbers to capture the offending chemicals — hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dioxins, furans and heavy metals — as well as small particulates.

Emissions from the plants in all categories have been reduced to just 10 to 20 percent of levels allowed under the European Union’s strict environmental standards for air and water discharges.

At the end of the incineration process, the extracted acids, heavy metals and gypsum are sold for use in manufacturing or construction. Small amounts of highly concentrated toxic substances, forming a paste, are shipped to one of two warehouses for highly hazardous materials, in the Norwegian fjords and in a used salt mine in Germany.

“The hazardous elements are concentrated and handled with care rather than dispersed as they would be in a landfill,” said Ivar Green-Paulsen, general manager of the Vestforbraending plant in Copenhagen, the country’s largest.

In Denmark, local governments run trash collection as well as the incinerators and recycling centers, and laws and financial incentives ensure that recyclable materials are not burned. (In the United States most waste-to-energy plants are private ventures.) Communities may drop recyclable waste at recycling centers free of charge, but must pay to have garbage incinerated.

At Vestforbraending, trucks stop on scales for weighing and payment before dumping their contents. The trash is randomly searched for recyclable material, with heavy fines for offenders.

The homeowners’ association in Horsholm has raised what its president, Mr. Rast, called “minor issues” with the plant, like a bright light on the chimney that shone into some bedrooms, and occasional truck noise. But mostly, he said, it is a respected silent neighbor, producing no noticeable odors.

The plant, owned by five adjacent communities, has even proved popular in a conservative region with Denmark’s highest per-capita income. Morten Slotved, 40, Horsholm’s mayor, is trying to expand it. “Constituents like it because it decreases heating costs and raises home values,” he said with a smile. “I’d like another furnace.”

Click HERE for Article

April 16, 2010 at 9:19 AM Leave a comment

U.S. President Barack Obama will attend the end of the Copenhagen climate change summit

Obama was originally scheduled to attend the December 7-18 summit in Denmark on Wednesday before traveling to nearby Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize.

Some European officials and environmentalists had expressed surprise at the initial decision, pointing out most of the hard bargaining on cutting greenhouse gas emissions would likely take place at the climax of the summit, when dozens of other world leaders are also due to attend.

“After months of diplomatic activity, there is progress being made toward a meaningful Copenhagen accord in which all countries pledge to take action against the global threat of climate change,” the White House said in a statement.

Danish officials say more than 100 world leaders have confirmed they will attend the conference, which Denmark hopes will help lay the foundation for a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming gases.

“Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to negotiations, the president believes that continued U.S. leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on December 18th rather than on December 9th,” the White House said.

GROWING CONSENSUS

The Obama administration has been encouraged by recent announcements by China and India, two other major carbon emitters, to set targets to rein in emissions and the growing consensus on raising cash to help poor nations cope with global warming, seen as a stumbling block to a new U.N. deal.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen swiftly welcomed Obama’s decision, saying his attendance was “an expression of the growing political momentum toward sealing an ambitious climate deal in Copenhagen.”

In London, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Obama’s presence would give “huge impetus” to the negotiations.

The United States will pledge in Copenhagen to cut its greenhouse gas emissions roughly 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

It was the last major industrialized country to offer a target for cutting greenhouse gases in a U.N.-led drive to slow rising world temperatures that could bring more heatwaves, expanding deserts, floods and rising sea levels.

Experts expect the Copenhagen gathering to reach a political agreement that includes targets for cuts in greenhouse gases by rich nations by 2020. Agreement on a successor to Kyoto will be put off until 2010.

The White House said Obama had discussed the status of negotiations with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s Brown.

There appeared to be a growing consensus that a “core element” of the Copenhagen accord should be to seek pledges totaling $10 billion a year by 2012 to help developing countries cope with climate change, the White House said.

“The United States will pay its fair share of that amount and other countries will make substantial commitments as well,” it said.

Environmentalists welcomed Obama’s move and some called for him to shift his administration’s target for cutting emissions at the same time.

“After a global outcry, President Obama has listened to the people and other world leaders; he has come to his senses and accepted the importance of this potentially historic meeting,” Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace International’s political climate coordinator, said in a statement.

“Now that he has moved the date, he needs to move his targets and his financial contribution to be in line with what climate science demands,” he said.

December 7, 2009 at 10:21 AM Leave a comment

President Obama’s Going to Copenhagen with a Target Climate Change

President Barack Obama will go to Copenhagen next month to participate in a long-anticipated, high-stakes global climate summit, a White House official said. The president will attend the summit on Dec. 9 before heading to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, the official told NBC News. Obama’s attendance had been in question until now.

Obama

The conference had originally been intended to produce a new global climate change treaty on limiting emissions of greenhouse gases that would replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. However, hopes for a legally binding agreement have dimmed lately, with leaders saying the summit is more likely to produce a template for future action to cut emissions blamed for global warming .

President Obama will attend the U.N. climate summit in Denmark, taking with him a target to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, the White House said Wednesday.

The pledge will not be part of a binding international treaty — the hopes for which have been dashed by the lack of a climate law coming out of Congress — but it will mimic the cuts passed by the House earlier this year. The Senate is still debating climate legislation.

“This provisional target” of 17 percent “is in line with current legislation in both chambers of Congress and demonstrates a significant contribution to a problem that the U.S. has neglected for too long,” the White House said in a statement.

For more click HERE

November 25, 2009 at 10:39 AM Leave a comment

Denmark Invites 191 Leaders to U.N. Climate Summit

Denmark has formally invited the leaders of United Nations member countries to the U.N. conference in Copenhagen in December that will try to clinch a new global climate deal, the government said on Thursday.

Copenhagan

The invitations are sent by letter from Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen to the heads of state and government of the other 191 U.N. member states.

The Copenhagen talks were originally meant for environment and climate ministers but the United Nations said last week that about 40 leaders have indicated plans to attend, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and leaders of nations in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

November 12, 2009 at 10:23 AM 1 comment


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