Fairbanks officials reject waste-fed power plant

Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Officials have shelved plans to pursue setting up a waste-powered energy plant in Fairbanks.

The decision follows a review of proposals that would have been too costly to operate, according to the Fairbanks North Star Borough, which runs the South Fairbanks public landfill.

The borough received four bids after soliciting input from companies interested in building a waste-to-energy plant.

Such a facility would represent a major shift in the borough's waste management. The borough lacks anything resembling recycling plans seen in some cities and relies largely on the landfill.

Bob Shefchik, the borough's chief of staff, said that none of the proposals would have collected enough revenue to cover their respective costs.

In their most common form, waste-powered energy plants incinerate household trash to produce electricity in a process similar to that seen in coal-fired power plants.

The concept is one of the more unique waste-management options considered during the past few years in Fairbanks. Currently, a private contractor hauls trash from collection sites around Fairbanks to the landfill.

According to a report in the borough's annual budget, the landfill is expected to fill with trash within 50 or 60 years under the existing waste-management plan. Shefchik said the review indicates a waste-to-energy plant would not pay its own way with existing technology, but Jennifer Yuhas, a spokeswoman for borough Mayor Jim Whitaker, said future innovations could change that.

"It's still something the borough is interested in pursuing, when it's more feasible," she said.

Officials considered a traditional recycling plan in late 2005, but abandoned it the following spring, saying it would be too costly. More than a year later, Whitaker set up a task force to look at recycling options while borough officials and researchers pursued the waste-to-energy idea.

Borough assembly member Mike Musick heads the recycling task force, which is preparing to make recommendations to the full assembly. Musick said the task force has worked under the assumption that any new recycling options would be a first stop for the waste stream and the remainder would go toward a waste-to-energy plant.

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