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Getting Gassy

Local Matters: Vermont considers controversial energy technology


Published October 24, 2007 at 5:45 p.m.

VERMONT - In recent years, a few U.S. and Canadian developers have begun considering plans to "gasify" sewage and municipal waste into electricity via an expensive chemical process. Now, gasification technology may be coming to Vermont, and a Montpelier environmental group is concerned.

Two separate waste-gasification proposals are being floated in the Green Mountains. In one case, the Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) of Johnson is working with two Canadian energy companies to secure $20 million from the federal government for a gasification project that would serve as a model for the state's other electric utilities. And Rutland-based Casella Waste Systems recently received funding from a California company to construct three waste gasification facilities in New England, at least one of which may be in Vermont.

"This is a perfect application for toxic substances," says VEC CEO Dave Hallquist, adding that waste gasification complements a larger goal of decentralized energy production.

Jessica Edgerly, a community organizer with the Toxics Action Center in Montpelier, begs to differ. She claims waste gasification poses significant dangers to air and water quality. An October 9 report by Greenaction, a California environmental group, supports her contention. It suggests that levels of mercury, lead and sulfur dioxide produced by traditional trash incinerators and solid-waste gasifiers are comparable.

Casella spokeswoman Paula Calabrese insists that gasification is a better alternative to landfilling. She says Casella will be filing permits with the state's Agency of Natural Resources sometime within the next few months.