Ciba proposes waste-fueled generator
Delaware passed ban on incinerators in 2000
By JEFF MONTGOMERY
The News Journal
A Newport pigment factory has challenged Delaware’s ban on new incinerators, asking state officials to consider a biomass-fueled steam and electricity plant.
Ciba Corp.’s proposal — made public only in broad terms — could require lawmakers to change a law passed in 2000 that banned most types of waste-fueled incinerators, “even if the by-products of the operation include useful products.”
Although one public record filed with federal regulators last year indicated that Ciba was considering a process that would skirt the incinerator ban, a company spokeswoman indicated by e-mail that Ciba now is pursuing a more conventional burner.
The ban — which took effect without Gov. Tom Carper’s signature — was introduced after a public battle over plans for a power plant that would have burned castoff wooden industrial pallets and other wastes. Supporters said the measure was needed to protect low-income neighborhoods from waste industry pollution.
Critics, including Carper, argued that the bill went too far, blocking use of renewable fuels, such as crop wastes, wood chips and woody “litter” used on the floors of thousands of Delmarva Peninsula poultry houses.
Today, legislators are divided on whether the law should not be changed.
“I’m going to oppose any change. If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters,” said Sen. David B. McBride, who sponsored the ban in 2000. Ciba could build its plant, he said, “if they can do it within the existing law.”
Company officials plan a public briefing at 7 p.m. May 28 at Newport Town Hall at 15 N. Augustine St.
BASF Corp., an international company with headquarters in Germany, completed a $5.1 billion acquisition of Switzerland-based Ciba in April. Officials described the Newport plant’s future as uncertain at that time, noting that some activities at the 200-employee plant might overlap with those of BASF.
Although details on the incinerator proposal are scarce, Ciba Vice President Donna Jakubowski said Newport was considering a “commercially proven combined heat and power technology.”
“We are pursuing this project to develop sustainable, renewable energy that uses the best technology available to be protective of the environment,” Jakubowski said in an e-mail. The company now buys electricity and uses natural gas to generate steam.
The company hopes to meet all of its steam requirements and two-thirds of its electricity needs from a biomass burner, Jakubowski said. A wide range of timber and agricultural industry leftovers, wood wastes or dedicated “energy” crops are under consideration for fuels, as is yard waste. Other details are unavailable, she said, with DNREC’s permit and emission control requirements likely to affect final project designs.
“Obviously, we support transitioning away from the use of fossil fuels and looking at more renewable energy where it makes sense. But some of the proposals also have significant downsides,” said Jennifer Mihills, associate director of the Delaware Nature Society.
“At this point, we have raised several questions. Certainly we don’t want to see an opening of the door for all kinds of possibilities,” Mihills said.
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Deputy Secretary David Small said that his agency has fielded other inquiries about incinerator-type projects recently, and has discussed the Newport proposal with Ciba.
Alan Muller, who directs the environmental group Green Delaware, said Ciba and other industries in the state are trying to reopen the state to incinerator construction, a move that would worsen emissions.
“We are concerned that the ‘fuels’ could end up including chemical wastes from Ciba’s manufacturing processes,” Muller added. “But even if the only ‘fuel’ was ‘clean wood,’ the health and environmental consequences would be bad. Wood is a chemically complex, high-emissions fuel.”
House Majority Leader Robert F. Gilligan, D-Sherwood Park, said that Ciba needed to brief community members and neighbors about the plant before lawmakers consider amending the ban.
Rep. Michael P. Mulrooney, D-Pennwood, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Environmental Control committee, said that he wanted more information but was “leaning toward” Ciba’s position.
“Right now I’m inclined to support it,” Mulrooney said. “From what I understand, the community is in favor.”
Newport Mayor Michael Spencer said that Ciba had been an environmentally sensitive plant and good neighbor in recent years, winning EPA recognition for its pollution-control efforts.
“A lot of people live in the immediate area,” Spencer cautioned. “If there’s an overwhelming sentiment about this from the residents, it’s very difficult to get it to the next stage.”
A company document filed with the Environmental Protection Agency last year said that Ciba had been working on the project at least since 2007, and that conflicts with the state’s incinerator ban “have been resolved.”
Ciba told the EPA at the time that its chosen process for Newport involved “pyrolysis” — a setup that uses extreme heat to bake and char wood to extract flammable gas and other materials without creating flames. The gas is then piped to burners for use as a fuel to make steam or electricity.
Jakubowski said that Ciba now considers pyrolysis technology still in a developmental stage.