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Major Hartford trash-burning plant will close within days, MIRA says

MIRA trash-to-energy plant
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority trash-to-energy plant in Hartford, Conn., as seen from the Charter Oak Bridge.

The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) has said for more than a year that it plans to close a trash incinerator located on the banks of the Connecticut River in Hartford.

Now MIRA has set a tentative closure date: July 22.

“Combustion, conversion to renewable energy, will end this month,” Tom Kirk, MIRA’s president and CEO, said at a board of directors meeting Wednesday. “It’s, frankly, imminent.”

In a phone interview with Connecticut Public Radio after the meeting, Kirk said, “On or about the 22nd we will probably run out of waste to burn.” He said that date could shift slightly in response to trash volumes or unforeseen mechanical problems.

The closure marks the end of a decades-long chapter in Connecticut’s waste industry: taking trash, burning it and turning it into electricity.

The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (now MIRA) burned the trash at its South Meadows facility in Hartford. Each year, the plant took in hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage from dozens of towns across the state.

But mechanical breakdowns, and power prices that fell by about 70%, took their toll.

“Our power used to sell for about $120 a megawatt hour,” Kirk said. “Now a routinely available price is about $35 a megawatt hour. That reduction in revenue has significantly impacted the business model such that it’s a little bit cheaper to send the stuff to a Pennsylvania, or a Virginia or an Ohio landfill than it is to maintain a renewable energy plant and recover your garbage for energy.”

MIRA proposed a plan to redevelop the plant in early 2020, but the agency asked for $330 million in state subsidies to support the idea.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont rejected the proposal months later, which led the MIRA leadership to soon announce plans to close the plant and redirect garbage to transfer stations in Torrington and Essex.

Member towns – now faced with higher disposal costs for their garbage – began leaving en masse, exercising opt-out clauses in their contracts and striking deals with private-sector haulers who could offer lower prices.

For towns like Hartford, the cheaper disposal options made short-term sense. But a more long-term issue loomed in the background: With MIRA gone, and in-state waste disposal options severely diminished, where would all that garbage go?

The long-term solution continues to remain unclear. For now, Connecticut will send large portions of its waste to out-of-state landfills.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said that it “is working hard to ensure that this period is as brief and limited as possible.”

The DEEP said it has been working with lawmakers and nearly 100 towns to explore new waste management solutions, and it recently completed a food-waste recycling pilot program that showed promising results in Meriden.

Kirk said efforts like that are important, but he believes Connecticut is still turning back the clock on how it manages waste. Historically, he said, Connecticut was a national leader in “sustainable waste management.”

“Meaning that we landfill virtually none of our waste,” Kirk said. “We reduce it. We recycle it. Or recover the energy from the stuff we can’t recycle.”

“That’s kind of been a badge of honor for Connecticut over the years,” Kirk said. “Unfortunately, things have changed.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.