Arizona Court Overturns Renewable Energy Credits for Incinerators: A Lesson for Frederick County and Maryland?

ilsrco2_266xThe trash incineration business is highly dependent on subsidies from government…or taxpayers. These subsidies come in a variety of forms.

In neighboring Montgomery County, as much as 70% of the cost of the incinerator debt payments and operating costs are covered by a tax on every household in the county. Taxpayers also provide a significant subsidy through the use of tax exempt, public industrial revenue bonds. Yet another subsidy is doled out by taxpayers when the state enables these facilities to receive renewable energy tax credits that would otherwise go to genuinely renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar.

Unfortunately, putting politics ahead of science, and despite considerable opposition, Maryland has been one of the states that has designated waste incinerators as a Tier 1 renewable source of energy.

Notably, however, a recent court ruling in Arizona has added legal precedent and weight to the scientific arguments against the latter form of subsidy.

For the first time a court of law has disqualified trash burning as a renewable energy source. The Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter in Arizona won a favorable ruling in its challenge to the Arizona Corporation Commission’s decision that trash burning could qualify for renewable energy credits.

On July 16, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the Commission had erred and abused its discretion in deciding to give renewable energy credits to the Mohave Electric Cooperative for the project it planned near Phoenix by the Reclamation Power Group.

The Sierra Club successfully argued that burning trash to produce power was not a use intended under the state’s renewable energy standard, and that funds should be redirected to support truly renewable energy resources such as wind and solar. The Sierra Club filed the lawsuit last September, directly challenging the Commission’s decision to allow trash burning to be considered a renewable energy resource.

“This decision is good news for clean renewable energy such as solar and wind,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter. “Promoting polluting and dated technologies such as burning trash to produce electricity would be a step backward for Arizona’s renewable energy programs.”

Brenda Platt of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance worked with Jeff Morris of Sound Resource Management in preparing expert testimony for the case and assisting the Sierra Club and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest in its analysis and submissions to the court. According to Platt, “This is a critical precedent as state renewable energy incentives perversely subsidize trash burners, making it more difficult for non-burn and safer reuse, recycling, and composting options to compete. Now in Arizona this money can support legitimate renewable energy systems.”

“Trash is not renewable,” she added.

For more information on the Arizona decision:

The average value of a renewable energy credit in 2010 in Massachusetts was between $20 and $40 per MWh. (“Burning Recycling“, Resource Recycling Magazine, May 2013.)

Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter & Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest press release.

Arizona News Tribune July 16th article, “Judge rules burning trash isn’t renewable energy” here.

Arizona Star Net July 16th article: “Maricopa Superior Court: Trash burning not a renewable resource – Utility Can’t Use Incineration to Meet Mandate, Judge Says” here.

For information and fact sheets on ILSR’s 2011 work in Maryland fighting the weakening of that state’s renewable portfolio standards, go to: Trash Is Not Renewable

For additional data on the environmental, energy, and climate problems posed by trash incineration, see ILSR’s 2008 report, Stop Trashing the Climate.