Category: Energy

What’s It All About: Trash to Energy – Covanta

On Friday, October 23, 2015, at Town Hall, Poolesville Green hosted its latest talk in the “What’s It All About” series of informational workshops.

Photo Credit: Poolesville Green

The topic was Montgomery County’s Resource Recovery Facility (Covanta) and the county’s energy-from-waste program, which was presented by Mark Freedman, Covanta Montgomery’s Business Manager.

When residents think of Covanta, the term “incinerator” may come to mind, along with the image of smoke stacks from decades past which spewed black fumes, carcinogenic ash, and a bad stench into the air. What we learned from the talk, however, is that Covanta’s state-of-the-art facility, equipped with the most rigorous of air pollution control systems, safely converts waste into clean, renewable energy.

In operation for 20 years now, Covanta’s Montgomery County Resource Recovery Facility, located off of Martinsburg Road in Dickerson, has been processing an average of 1,800 tons of solid waste daily, while generating up to a net 52 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 37,000 homes.

Montgomery County appears to have put quite a bit of thought into the design of its solid waste management plan with an emphasis on sustainability. In 2000, its Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) was given the “Waste-to-Energy Facility of the Year” award by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Solid Waste Processing Division.

So what happens to your trash after you place it on the curb? (Did you know it goes on a train ride?)

PG Covanta Side 18All of the county’s trash is first delivered to the Shady Grove Transfer Station in Derwood where it is compacted into waste containers. Each day, these containers are loaded onto train cars and transported 22-miles to an enclosed building at the Dickerson facility. The use of the rail system eliminates the truck traffic on rural roads, in particular Route 28, as well as the emissions that would be associated with all the diesel trucks traveling to the facility.

In the “incinerator,” the RRF uses a mass combustion technology where waste is burned at temperatures exceeding 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and reduced to an inert ash residue that is about 10% of its original volume. The heat from combustion boils water and generates steam, which turns a turbine-driven generator to produce electricity. The electricity generated is distributed to the grid.

What is done to keep the pollutants generated by combustion out of the air?

The energy-from waste (EfW) industry is highly regulated, more so than the coal and oil utilities.Picture from PG Covanta Slide 20 EfW Process The RRF uses state-of-the-art emissions control technologies to treat the air from the combustion chamber of the boilers. A carbon-injection system removes mercury and dioxins/furans. An ammonia-injection system removes nitrous oxides. Lime injection controls acid gases, in addition to a dry flue gas scrubber and fabric filter baghouse that control acid gases and particulate emissions. Covanta also utilizes a MARTIN Combustion Control system for carbon monoxide as well as a Low NOx system.

Picture from PG Covanta Slide 31

After passing through the multi-step air pollution control system, what goes up the stack is clean gas. According to Freedman, what you see coming out is just “steam,” and it is distinguishable from a smoke plume because it is detached from the stack. The county monitors the emissions continuously (every 10 seconds) and the data is available for view on its website:

**It may be worth noting that the emissions from the RRF plant should not be confused with the emissions visible from the neighboring NRG Energy Dickerson plant, a coal-fired power station, also located on Martinsburg Road, which reportedly has plans to shut down operations in 2017.

Finally, what about the solid ash? The fly ash that is collected in the baghouse is wet down and cooled, then exposed to a powerful magnet that pulls out the metals that can be recycled. The final solid material is shipped out to a landfill in Richmond, Virginia where it provides the mandated 6” daily cover of inert material.

Freedman also addressed the topic of potential health risks associated with the RRF emissions. He cited studies commissioned by Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation, Division of Solid Waste Services and reviewed by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Air and non-air samples from nearby areas continue to be monitored (every 3 years and 5 years, respectively), and the numbers have consistently shown that the relative risk of harm to human health is very low and that the RRF does not pose unacceptable risks to the surrounding community.

After describing the Covanta Montgomery facility, Freedman went on to discuss waste management on a global level. He shared data comparing the environmental effects of EfW versus landfilling. EfW uses less land per megawatt than other renewable energy sources. EfW also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases in the air compared to landfilling, mainly by eliminating the release of methane gas (which is about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide) that would occur in a landfill.

PG Covanta Side 38

Data showing where the US stands globally with regard to EfW vs. landfilling was also presented. Compared to Europe, which has successfully eliminated or reduced landfills and implemented effective EfW technologies, the US still landfills 64% of its trash.

PG Covanta Side 40 PG Covanta Side 39

We’ve all heard the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” According to Freedman, Montgomery County does a very good job at recycling. The county’s solid waste services also promote “reuse” programs at the Transfer Station (e.g., bicycles, paint, and building materials). There are organizations such as AWiderCircle, a nonprofit that redistributes used furniture and home goods to families in need. However, he says, as a society we are not doing a very good job of “reducing” trash volume. Convenience demands the excessive use of plastic and other materials that end up in the trash. Until the volume of trash is reduced, EfW will continue to be considered a “renewable” energy source.

In an ideal world, from an environmental perspective, we would produce much less trash. However, until we can solve that problem, EfW appears to be a responsible and sustainable solution for both waste management and renewable energy.

More Photos: Poolesville Green Google+

Community and Residential Solar Energy Event in Poolesville

On October 06, 2015, the Community & Residential Solar Energy Event in Poolesville:
Tour of the Poolesville Solar Array that began at Bassett’s Restaurant at 3:30 pm on Tuesday Oct 6.

People gather at Bassett’s before tour

The first tour stop – the Poolesville Solar Array. In 2014, Poolesville became one of the only two Montgomery County communities to produce renewable energy..The 6-acre solar farm is located adjacent to the Poolesville Waste Water Treatment Plant, produces enough electricity to power much of the municipal government’s needs, including fueling the treatment plant and keeping the lights on in the Town Hall. The solar farm reports to save Poolesville as much as $20,000 annually in reduced energy costs. Poolesville town manager, Wade Yost and Poolesville Green’s Executive Director Joyce Breiner lead this portion of the tour,.

Wade talks about the Solar Array
Array on the background


Attendees check out the array

The second stop on the tour was a visit to a 15 year old, net-zero energy, single family home (2 Hackett Ct, Poolesville, MD, 20837). The house has been upgraded over the past 7 years to include obvious and not so obvious energy savings changes.

Solar Powered Home

This includes 69 rooftop solar panels producing at time more engender then used by the occupants. They also own two electric vehicles.charged by this solar powered home.

All electric Nissan LEAF

After the tour, it was back to Bassett’s Restaurant for food and more conversation. Eric R. Coffman, CEM, CEP, LEED AP, Chief – Office of Energy and Sustainability of the Department of “Green” General Services in Montgomery County provided an overview of the county’s efforts with solar programs, county energy taxes, and its public programs to overcome energy barriers. More discussions  with Corey Ramsden, Program Manager at MD SUN, and a representative from the Community Power Network and a chance to network with other attendees.

At Bassett’s Restaurant

Event Links and more related posts::

Flip the Switch!

It’s official the more then a Megawatt Solar Array is on line. Monday June 2nd, the Official Ribbon Cutting for the Town of Poolesville Solar Array was held.

Several high level town, county and state executives spoke and our very own Poolesville Green Executive Director Joyce Breiner spoke. Representatives of UGI Performance Solution and Standard Solar also spoke at the event. Speakers included Jim Brown (Town of Poolesville President), Tony Clifford (from Standard Solar, Inc ), Charles Miller (General Manager UGI) Ike Leggett (Montgomery County Executive), Brian Feldman (Maryland State Senator), Roger Berliner (Montgomery County Council Member).

Poolesville leads the way with the first such city/town facility in county. Tony Clifford says that in 12 months of operations the Array will save Poolesville about $30k in electric cost and reduce the carbon footprint by about 2.4 million pounds of CO2 per year or about 1.2 million pounds of coal.

What’s It All About: Poolesville Town Solar Array


Poolesville Town Solar Array Information Evening

You are invited to attend this Free Informative Evening to Hear…

  • How & Why Poolesville Considered a Solar Array
  • How It Provides for the Town Government’s Electricity Needs
  • Costs Vs Benefits & How the “No Money Down” Option Works
  • Other Benefits (Educational, Economic, Environmental)

Featured Speakers:
Jim Brown, President, Commissioners, Town of Poolesville
Lee Bristol, Commercial Installations, Standard Solar, Inc.

Free; RSVPs requested here on FaceBook or at

Poolesville will have a Solar Array

Town Commissioners have voted 4 to 1. Poolesville will have a solar array producing enough electricity to operate the town’s 6 largest electric meters including the waste water treatment plant. The solar array will go online by the end of the year. Kudos to the Commissioners, Town Attorney, and Town Manager for the diligent and thorough work over the past two years. Congratulations to local clean energy employer, Standard Solar in winning the contract.

Update: Solar Array in Poolesville…

Update: Solar Array in Poolesville…There was a good turnout at the commissioners meeting Monday night and the presentation by Standard Solar was very good. Outcome: the commissioners took an interim vote to continue moving forward investigating the project. There is no clear indication when the final vote will come and a contract approved. Apparently, there are some issues that need to be worked out. Don’t ask; don’t know what they are. The Commissioners are doing their due diligence (good). I strongly urge that town residents keep tuned in and make their thoughts known on the matter by calling, emailing or talking to them – how ’bout at Poolesville Day! Look for information on the Solar Array at the Poolesville GreenBooth on Poolesville Day.


TOWN SOLAR ARRAY COMING TO POOLESVILLE?.. Maybe/Maybe Not..Get Informed….Plan to Attend the next Commissioners’ Meeting, on this coming Monday night September 10th at 7:30pm. There will be a presentation & answers session regarding the Solar Array by Standard Solar, a local company and nationwide supplier of solar. Citizens will have an opportunity to make statements, ask questions or just listen to get informed. NOW is the time to speak up, however. The solar array project is NOT a DONE DEAL. After the meeting, the Commissioners will hold a work session to discuss next steps with this project, which could be to move forward or drop it outright. Commissioners need to hear from YOU. Unable to attend? Send your comments to the commissioners at today!