April 25, 2016

Budget woes shutter Trash Museum

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Thomas Gaffey, director of recycling and enforcement for MIRA, at the Trash Museum's entrance.

Due to declining revenue from burning trash to create energy, a quasi-public waste management and recycling agency will close its 21-year-old Trash Museum in Hartford on July 1.

Officials from the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) said low natural gas prices have taken a bite out of the prices it can fetch for energy at its trash-to-energy plant on Murphy Road, just down the street from its single-stream recycling facility, where the museum has been housed since it was created by MIRA predecessor the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority in 1995.

Since then, approximately 500,000 people have visited the museum, which costs $275,000 per year to operate, according to Chief Financial Officer Mark Daley, and features interactive exhibits meant to educate residents about recycling.

The 6,500-square-foot museum is considered one of the largest in the country.

MIRA President Thomas Kirk called the closure "an unfortunate result of some very difficult fiscal issues we're dealing with." CRRA shuttered a similar facility, the Garbage Museum in Stratford, in 2011, citing budget challenges.

The budget adopted by MIRA's board in February anticipated approximately $90 million in energy sales, down $3.6 million, or 16 percent, from the current fiscal year.

Kirk said natural gas prices have driven down the prices fetched by MIRA's plant in recent years from around 9 cents per kilowatt hour to as low as 2 cents.

"Fundamentally, the revenue return to the trash-to-energy plant is substantially less than it was a few years ago," Kirk said.

To improve its prospects, MIRA wants the legislature to allow it to receive Class I renewable energy credits, which are reserved for energy sources like solar panels and fuel cells. Those credits are worth more than the Class II credits the plants currently earn. "Absent that, we're entering some unknown territory here in terms of revenues," Kirk said.

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