Private energy plant considered in Carroll County

A proposal for a privately funded waste-to-energy plant in Carroll County that utilizes a new technology could put a wrinkle in plans for a shared incinerator in Frederick.

An international waste disposal company approached Taneytown officials two months ago about building the plant, and discussions remain preliminary, officials said Thursday.

“What they are suggesting certainly sounds attractive to us,” Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild said. “If it looks promising, we’ll explore it further.”

The company has proposed building a 1,500-ton-per-day waste disposal plant at Taneytown’s industrial park along Md. 194. County and town officials said they were told by the company that construction would be privately funded.

ALFA Group LLC has proposed to build the plasma gasification waste-to-energy plant without taxpayer dollars, Taneytown Mayor James McCarron Jr. said. Jobs would be created and the plant would improve the local economy, the mayor said.

According to the company’s website, plasma gasification is a waste-treatment technology that uses high doses of electrical energy and heat to break down waste into gas and ash, resulting in the creation of power.

“It sounds very attractive to us,” McCarron said. “It’s nothing we’ve committed to. It’s something we’re going to investigate further.”

Michael Marschner, special projects manager for Frederick County who is managing the joint disposal project, said it’s not the first time he has heard of companies promising great deals on waste disposal.

“We’re not concerned,” Marschner said of the talks. “Our project uses a well-demonstrated technology. … I doubt that it will ever be built.”

The ALFA Group proposal is a risky one for a government entity to rely on for waste disposal, he said, because it uses unproven technology.

No plants like the one being proposed in Taneytown have been built commercially in the United States, Marschner said. Carroll County officials said they were told the new technology has been used overseas in Europe and Asia.

“If you’re the first on anything, you’re likely to be on the bleeding edge, not on the leading edge,” Marschner said. “I wouldn’t want to be the guinea pig.”

ALFA Group could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Even if the plan is accepted, it would take years to gain proper federal and state approvals before work could begin.

The plan for a shared waste-to-energy incinerator in Frederick County — more than five years in the making — is now going through the approval process. Officials expect final permits to be approved by June.

Rothschild, one of two Carroll County commissioners working on the two-county plan, emphasized it is still too early to say what the board will decide.

“There is a lot to do before we can say this is good,” Rothschild said.

A top concern is the lack of a similar plant in the U.S., he said.

“Is it feasible, and will they be able to deliver? We need to inject a healthy dose of due diligence. … There are still too many unknowns for us to determine if this is a viable option,” Rothschild said.

Both McCarron and Rothschild said they would want to know how much the communities would be charged per ton to dump waste.

Frederick and Carroll counties have an agreement to build a 1,500-ton-per-day plant at McKinney Industrial Park that would be used to dispose of trash for both counties. The plant would burn trash to generate electricity for both counties.

The current plan is to share construction costs, with Frederick County picking up an estimated $221 million — 60 percent of the total.

Both counties now ship most of their trash to out-of-state landfills, but Marschner has said that cannot be a long-term solution.

Opponents in Frederick County have called the shared waste-to-energy plan costly and a danger to the environment.

Caroline Eader, a Frederick County resident and incinerator opponent, said she had reservations about the type of technology being discussed in Carroll County because it is unproven.

Frederick County, however, should take note, she said.

“The fact they are looking for private funding is key,” Eader said. “That’s how it should be approached. I do not think the county should be subsidizing trash incineration.

“I think it really should make Frederick County pause and realize there are other choices out there that are less expensive.”

Some Carroll County officials have expressed reservations about following through with the plan to partner with Frederick County.

To opt out, Carroll County officials would have to find a suitable replacement partner or risk owing a $3 million penalty.

Regardless of what Carroll County decides, Frederick County remains committed to forging ahead, Marschner said.

“We certainly have a couple of options,” he said.

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