New Planet Energy holds first public discussion about proposed $600M waste to fuel plant

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

At a joint meeting of the Stony Point Planning and Town Boards last Thursday evening, a standing room only crowd listened intently to a presentation from New Planet Energy about its proposal to build a waste to biofuel plant on the former Kay Fries site. The public also had a limited opportunity for the first time to directly ask the developers about the project.

Stony Point Supervisor Geoff Finn opened the meeting by stating that this was an opportunity to learn, but also asserted that the town “will not force anything down anyone’s throat.” Planning Board Chair Tom Gubitosa further pointed out that this would be only the “first of many such meetings, and that there will be numerous opportunities for the public to get information.” Both men stressed that the presentation would only cover information about the actual technology and operation of the proposed plant, and that only questions relating to those subjects would be answered at the meeting.

Capacity crowd at James A. Farley Middle School
Capacity crowd at James A. Farley Middle School

New Planet Energy’s CEO Gary Smith, and President, John Cruikshank, each gave short introductions about the company, which was founded in 2007 for the purpose of developing alternative “green” solutions to energy production through the conversion of household waste. Energy consultant Thomas Yonge also briefly spoke about the company’s commitment to transparency and partnership with the communities in which it seeks to build its plants. He asserted that New Planet Energy was equally committed to “balancing environmental and social impacts with the added benefit and value of economic goals.”

The heart of the presentation, however, was delivered by Chris Doherty, Vice President of ThermoChem Recovery International (TRI), the developer of the technology that New Planet Energy would use to achieve the waste to fuel conversion process.

According to Doherty, TRI provides technology to “cleanly” convert “complicated” waste streams into “valuable” energy. He emphatically stated that the process used neither incineration nor combustion as has been widely rumored. Rather, the process uses steam heated to between 1200 and 1500 degrees Fahrenheit and a “fluidized bed” of aluminum sand to convert the waste feedstock into a “syngas” that can be further refined into diesel and other useable fuels. Any ash remaining would also be saleable for concrete or other purposes.

The feedstock would be comprised of “municipal solid waste” (MSW) brought in from surrounding areas. New Planet Energy asserted that none of it would originate from outside New York State. Doherty explained that the waste essentially breaks down into three categories—organic, recyclable, and remaining trash—and that removing and disposing of recyclables would be incorporated into the process. The rest of the waste would then be dried out before fed into the gasification apparatus. New Planet anticipates that the plant’s maximum capacity would be to convert 4,000 tons of waste a day into about 2,260 barrels of diesel fuel.

During the Q&A, Doherty admitted that the conversion portion of the plant would operate 24/7, although other functions might operate on shorter shifts. He also stated that the energy used to fuel the steam boiler, as well as operate the rest of the plant, would initially come from natural gas or electricity, although he added that in time the plant might produce enough fuel to power itself as well. The water for the steam process would come from “gray” or other “non-potable” water. In response to a question about the differences between the proposed plant and New Planet’s Vero Beach operation, he explained that the Vero Beach facility is much smaller, and is designed to convert agricultural waste into ethanol.

After the presentation, New Planet Board President Jay Johnson admitted to the Rockland County Times that this plant, if built, would be the largest of its kind to date. The next largest using the same or similar technology currently only converts about 500 tons of MSW a day. Johnson stated that New Planet approached about 30 locations throughout New York State, and settled on making a proposal to Stony Point because of the location and size of the site available. Cruikshank had previously noted that only one of the 30 municipalities had outright declined to consider the project.

Most attendees appeared to be keeping an open mind about the project, with several telling the Rockland County Times afterward that they appreciate the offer of transparency and that they were glad to learn that the process does not use combustion or incineration, as had been rumored. Mary Bishel from Liberty Ridge in Stony Point, whose home overlooks the wetlands where a portion of the plant would be built, stated that it was a “good explanation,” but that she still had questions about whether the wetlands were federally protected.

Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillips who also attended was less impressed. He pointed out that the only other fuel producing plant similar to the one proposed here was located in a Nevada desert, and not in the middle of a residential community. He also expressed disappointment that there was no information offered about air emissions.

Special Counsel to the Planning Board John Furst confirmed that the DEC will be taking on the role of lead agency for the SEQRA process, although that agency has not yet formally announced its decision. He stated that the DEC has asserted its willingness to work closely with the Planning Board, which consequently has no objection. Furst, as well as Gubitosa and Finn, emphasized that questions concerning environmental and other impacts would be answered after the DEC gets involved.

Gubitosa also announced that all information about the project, including answers to the questions asked, would be available on the Planning Board page of Stony Point’s website. New Planet Energy has also established an informational website at www.NPE-StonyPoint.com.