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 August 07, 2013
Burning Trash Not a Renewable Energy, Court Says

 A Superior Court judge in Maricopa County, Ariz. ruled in July that trash burning is not a renewable energy resource, striking down the Arizona Corporation Commission's 3-2 approval of Mohave Electric Cooperative's proposal to use electricity from a waste incinerator project to meet its renewable requirements.

Judge Crane McClennen said the commission "erred and abused its discretion" in its decision on the 11-MW project, which was to be located west of Phoenix and built by Reclamation Power Group.

The Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club and Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed the lawsuit last year.

"Promoting polluting and dated technologies such as burning trash to produce electricity is a step backwards for Arizona's renewable energy programs," said Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club, when the action was filed. "It makes zero sense to put this type of facility in an area that already does not meet health-based standards for several air pollutants."

Trucks would have delivered about 500 tons of trash to the site each day to be burned to produce steam to generate electricity. Mohave Electric, based in northwestern Arizona, wanted to buy RECs from the project. The ACC approved the idea in 2011, reconsidered the decision at the request of the Sierra Club, and then approved it again in 2012.

ACC Chair Bob Stump, who voted for the project, pointed out after the court's ruling that EPA classifies waste energy as renewable and that there are waste-to-energy plants across the country and in Europe.

"In spite of the widespread use of this mainstream technology throughout the world, it has been shamelessly demagogued as 'dirty trash burning' by those who believe it's a threat to politically-favored forms of renewable energy," he said in an article in the Green Valley News and Sun.

Rebecca Wilder, ACC spokeswoman, told Energy Prospects West/ in an email that the commissioners haven't decided what action to take next, but are expected to discuss the matter at an upcoming staff meeting.

Some states, like Nevada and Utah, count municipal solid waste as a renewable resource. Washington excludes it entirely, and California prohibits "direct combustion of municipal solid waste," according to the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy. Oregon's renewable portfolio standard originally excluded municipal solid waste incineration facilities, but in 2010, the Legislature said a utility could count up to 11 MW from such facilities built before 1995, as long as they didn't burn chemically-treated wood.