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Market News

 June 21, 2016
Waste to Energy (WTE) finds the silver lining in challenging markets

 The waste-to-energy (WTE) industry in the U.S. faces some big challenges. Lower energy and commodities prices have taken a big bite out of profits for these operations in the last year especially. But panelists from some of the leading WTE companies in the U.S. are keeping a positive outlook.

During the 2016 North American Waste-to-Energy Conference in late May, a CEO Roundtable, moderated by Energy Recovery Council President Ted Michaels brought together Steven Jones, president and CEO of Covanta; Jim Ferland, chairman and CEO, Babcock & Wilcox (B&W); and Jim Warner, CEO of Pennsylvania's Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority.

While Jones admitted the lower power prices were not favorable to power producers, the industry has done a great job at recovering metal and pointed out that incoming waste still accounts for about two-thirds of the revenues for WTE companies. "Volumes have been strong," he noted.

Warner spoke of how the lucrative power purchase agreements (PPAs) are a thing of the past. The authority went from receiving $56 dollars a megawatt to $21 dollars a megawatt. "The good thing is, a lot of projects like ours are now retiring debt. While we are stressed with the energy end," he told attendees. "We are able to withstand this type of depressed energy market because we don't have the debt payment on projects."

Ferland who acknowledged B&W is more of a technology provider than a WTE operator, though it is in some cases, said there is not a lot in the queue for the firm domestically. By contrast the company is building seven WTE facilities in Europe.

The long development cycle in comparison with political cycles was discussed as a major hurdle in U.S. plant development. Jones also mentioned government support is much greater in Europe for the WTE industry.

Panelists also discussed the changing waste stream. Jones said it was hard to predicts what was going to happen with recycling. "In the short term, I think we are not going to see a big difference in calorific value of waste. Mass burn plants have plenty of capacity to deal with variations in the waste stream."

Though plans fell through for a recycling plant in conjunction with Covanta's WTE plant in Indianapolis, Jones said Covanta continues to be interested in advanced recycling centers. He also pointed out that Covanta is already recovering 500,000 tons of metal per year and is interested in recovering more high value metals from ash.

NAWTEC 2016 was May 23-25 at the PGA National Gardens Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.