An Out of the Box Idea for Our Solid Waste Problem
By Mark McKelvey
The best solutions to perplexing problems are often found “outside of the box.” To solve the problems at the Beaver Hill Solid Waste Disposal Facility that is exactly where we need to look.
Currently three proposals are being considered to remedy the Beaver Hill conundrum. I find all of them flawed. One proposal is to replace the failed incinerator units. This will cost between 25 and 50 million dollars. Coos County does not have that kind of money to spend on what amounts to a very expensive way to dispose of solid waste.
Another proposal converts the site to a transfer station whereby our solid waste is shipped to landfills outside the county, or even outside the state. This is not responsible or prudent, as by law the county retains the ultimate liability for its solid waste regardless of where it goes. We cannot hand off our problems to someone else.
Finally, some suggest we should privatize the whole operation. This will inevitably lead to higher rates and little or no public control over the process. It also begs the question: If a private company can turn a profit with our solid waste, why can’t we?
The answer is: We can.
My out of the box proposal is capitalize on what is being called “The Golden Age of Garbage” and investigate ways to turn our trash into treasure using “Waste to Energy” (WTE) technologies.
These technologies are not new. In fact, they have been in use across the country for years. Co-generation, gasification, and biomass plants transform solid waste materials into heat and electricity which communities utilize for growth and economic development.
Some shining examples are right here in Oregon. To our southeast, Lake County has set a goal of becoming a net energy exporter. Using a combination of solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass projects, it is within sight of achieving its goal. Another sparsely populated county, Wallowa, is nearing completion of a biomass plant that will produce 100kw of power. In each case the cost to the counties is minimal. Both counties took advantage of federal and state grants for the lion’s share of the funding. Private industry also made key contributions.
In fact, our own private partner in Coos County, Waste Management, is an integral player in a state of the art solid waste disposal site in Arlington, Oregon which uses plasma technology to convert trash into energy and fuels.
The Beaver Hill facility does not need to be a laboratory for new technology development to be successful. It can, however, be a laboratory for the successful implementation of established WTE technologies in a geographically isolated, rural area. A co-gen operation at Beaver Hill could process all of Coos County’s solid waste, turning it into clean, renewable energy. That energy could be used to develop the surrounding county lands into an Energy Industrial Park that could attract new small to medium manufacturers with free or subsidized energy, rather than tax breaks.
Sound farfetched? The Coquille Tribe doesn’t think so. It is embarking on a biomass facility of its own as a means of achieving a goal of total energy independence. Once constructed, the plant will power the entire Mill Casino and Hotel solely from biomass waste.
Coos County has a unique opportunity today to capitalize on these ideas. The federal government and the State of Oregon have established ambitious goals for the creation of renewable energy projects. They have budgeted monies to fund them and are looking for communities to become willing partners. Private industry is likewise highly motivated to see these technologies implemented.
All it will take is for us to rise up out of the box and say, “Yes!” Once we have experienced the success of energy creation at Beaver Hill, we can tap into our other renewable energy possibilities. Then like Lake County and the Coquille tribe, Coos County too can achieve energy independence.
As your county commissioner, I intend to champion this effort.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of MGx.