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December 8, 2020

Massive, aging Hartford trash incinerator to close in 2022 

Contributed Photo The MIRA-run waste-to-energy plant in Hartford is slated for a mid-2022 closure.

With prospects for a costly redevelopment seemingly exhausted and energy revenues projected to keep falling, the quasi-public overseer of an aging Hartford waste-to-energy plant on the banks of the Connecticut River says the facility will close in mid-2022.

Tom Kirk, president of the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA), said in an interview Tuesday that the agency’s plan, starting July 2022 after it shutters the Mid-Connecticut plant, is to begin trucking as much as 680 tons of waste per day to landfills as far west as Ohio.

“Absent a substantial capital infusion, the plant will not continue to run,” Kirk said.

The change is significant for Connecticut, as the plant burns about one-third, or roughly 700,000 tons, of the state’s waste each year. Kirk estimates that MIRA and Connecticut private haulers could be exporting over 1 million tons of waste once the plant closes. 

The immediate financial impact on the 50 communities contracted with MIRA through 2027, which currently pay $91 per ton to dispose of their waste, as well as the impact on the broader waste hauling industry, is unclear.

Kirk noted that more landfills have closed recently or are slated to close in the near future, including in New York and Massachusetts. Connecticut has closed virtually all of its landfills over the years as it’s shifted toward a waste-to-energy strategy and focused on increased diversion of recyclables from the waste stream.

However, there’s currently still appetite from a number of landfills in various states to accept waste, added Kirk, who said burying garbage is a high-margin business.

“There will certainly be impacts,” Kirk said. “My estimation is it’s not going to be cheaper to get rid of garbage in the future.”
Kirk guesses that smaller private haulers in particular could be hurt by the closure of the plant, which has not turned away any business and has acted as a certain and predictable place to dispose of waste if needed.

“We’ve never turned away a customer in our 30 years of operation,” Kirk said. “That’s a huge advantage to a service provider that is potentially going away.”

The Hartford plant’s future has been in question for some time, after state-ordered negotiations with a Spanish firm called Sacyr-Rooney to redevelop key infrastructure in the plant failed to produce an agreement earlier this year.
That led MIRA to call on the state to borrow about $330 million to save the facility.

Gov. Ned Lamont rejected that proposed infusion back in July, saying he could not justify the taxpayer investment in a decades-old facility that has suffered costly component failures in recent years and is also opposed by officials in Hartford who say city residents should not have to shoulder the burden of health effects of burning roughly two-thirds of Connecticut’s solid waste.

While Lamont and and his Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) were dissatisfied with MIRA’s plan to convert the plant into a transfer station ‒ Lamont called a permanent transfer operation a “nonstarter” and DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said greater composting of organics could be a part of the answer ‒ waste exporting will become the state’s primary reality absent a major investment in other technologies, Kirk said.

“This is a function of necessity,” he said. ”There is no plan.”

DEEP did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning, but Dykes told WNPR recently that the state is facing a waste crisis, and that her agency is working with 70 cities and towns on efforts to reduce the size of the waste stream. Strategies under review by the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management include organics collection, increasing recycling, pay-as-you-throw policies for consumers and businesses, and manufacturer packaging reduction efforts.

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