Weekly News Bulletin: Dec. 22-28, 2009


EPA Delays New Rules on Coal Ash

The US EPA announced this week that it is delaying its proposed new rules for regulating ash from coal-fired power plants. EPA cited the "complexity of the analysis" involved in the issue and said agency officials are "still actively clarifying and refining parts of the proposal." It did not set a new deadline. The announcement comes almost exactly a year after the collapse of a coal-ash impoundment at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in East Tennessee spilt nearly a billion gallons of wet ash, containing more than 2.6 million pounds of toxic pollutants, pouring into local streams, fields and homes. Pressure from activists and Congress pushed EPA to set its own deadline of a year to propose new regulations for coal ash disposal. As part of this process, EPA has been gathering data on "wet" disposal ponds but has not yet made it publicly available. The delay may have to do with criticism from activists who charge that they will not have enough time to independently review the data by the time that EPA proposes new rules...Read More »



Regulating Ash as Hazardous Could Shutter Coal Utilities Says Study

Preliminary findings by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) find that between 190 and 411 coal-fired power plants could be shuttered if the EPA chooses for the first time to regulate coal ash as hazardous under Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) rules. The utility industry including the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents investor-owned utilities, fears that a hazardous designation would be a negative "game changer" by imposing prohibitively high compliance costs on many coal-fired power plants. As a result, Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) that move electricity across several states would experience between 4 and 19 percent drop in generating capacity, according to testimony from Ken Ladwig, EPRI senior research manager, before a House Energy & Commerce Committee environment panel hearing on Dec. 10. The results focus on the specific impacts on coal-fired power plants if they were required under a hazardous waste designation to switch from "wet" coal ash disposal in surface impoundments and other ponds to dry coal ash storage, for example in a landfill...Read More »



Covanta Breaks Ground on $302 Million Hawaiian Facility Expansion

Covanta Energy is developing a $302 million expansion of its Honolulu waste-to-energy (H-Power) plant that will boost waste handling capacity and power output by over 40%. The facility currently employs two refuse-derived fuel boilers capable of processing a combined 2,160 tons-per-day of municipal solid waste, while generating 57 megawatts of energy, enough to power 45,000 homes. The expansion calls for adding a third boiler utilizing mass-burn technology to combust an additional 900 tons-per-day that will produce an additional 25 to 30 megawatts of power. Once complete, the expanded H-Power facility will process 1.1 million tons of waste per year and accommodate over 60% of the 1.8 million tons of waste generated by Oahu's residents. H-POWER, or Honolulu Program Of Waste Energy Recovery, began operations in May 1990 and has been operated by Covanta since its inception. The city subsequently renewed its contract with Covanta for another 20 years. The expansion is expected to be complete by early 2012...Read More »



Covanta Exploring a Bid for UK Waste Company Shanks Group

According to reports in UK's Guardian Newspaper, Covanta is interested in buying U.K. waste management company Shanks Group PLC. Early reports indicate that a bidding war is likely for the company which serves markets in the UK, Belgium and The Netherlands. Last week, private equity firm Carlyle Group LP made a bid that values Shanks at GBP536 million (US$857 million). Other bidders are likely to include waste management firm Sita UK, a subsidiary of French group Suez Environment, which bought a GBP2 million commercial waste and recycling collection business in Swansea, Wales from Shanks earlier in this year. AVR, a Dutch waste company owned by private equity outfits Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and CVC Capital Partners, has also made contact with Shanks's investment bankers, while Terra Firma, the private equity firm set up by Guy Hands, is also said to be interested.

Last week, Covanta said it had begun construction of a new EUR$350 million waste-to-energy facility in Dublin, Ireland. Covanta is banking on a transformation of the European waste management industry in coming years with passage of the EU Landfill Directive that seeks to discourage landfill by imposing steadily rising levies on their use. The UK is also in line to face harsh fines from Brussels if it does not sharply reduce the 56% of all rubbish it currently sends to landfills...Read More »



PG&E and DTE Energy Sign Contract for 45-MW of Biomass Power

PG&E Corp.'s (PCG) utility said it has signed a contract with DTE Energy Co. (DTE) to purchase the output from a proposed 45-megawatt biomass power plant that would replace an existing coal-fired power plant in Stockton, CA, owned by FPL Group Inc. With California Public Utilities Commission approval, DTE will purchase and renovate the plant to run on biomass material, such as wood waste, to begin operations in 2013. DTE, which owns utilities in Michigan and a coal marketing unit, among other businesses, owns a biomass unit that captures methane from landfills and abandoned coal mines and converts the gas into electricity. PG&E and other California utilities are required to use renewable sources for a fifth of the power they sell by the end of 2010, with the mandate ramping up to one-third of their retail power by 2020...Read More »



Senate Bill Would Extend Tax Credits to Grants for Renewable Energy

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced legislation that will allow qualified renewable energy projects to exchange tax credits for Treasury Department grants. The program would cover up to 30 percent of project costs for wind, solar, biomass and certain other types of projects until 2012. It is meant to remedy the effects of the recession which rendered traditional tax credits useless because lenders and investors had no profits in order to benefit from tax credits. Currently, there is no cap to the program. Treasury has estimated it will provide about $3 billion in grants to support $10 billion to $14 billion worth of projects under the program, which is slated to end next year.

"The grant program is set to expire at the end of next year, before most construction is expected to occur and well before experts expect the tax equity markets to thaw," Feinstein said in a statement. "If the grant program is not extended, bank profits will again become the limiting factor on renewable energy development in the United States, and that makes no sense," she said...Read More »



Waste Management Raises Quarterly Dividend by 8.6%

Waste Management's Board of Directors raised its quarterly dividend by 8.6% to 31.5 cents from 29 cents per share marking the sixth straight year of increases. The yield based on the new payout is 3.85%. The board intends to declare the first-quarter dividend in February, with the first payment of the higher dividend expected in March. "This announcement reflects our continued commitment to returning cash to our shareholders. Waste Management continues to produce consistent and strong cash flows, as evidenced by the dividend increase," said CEO David Steiner in a company press release...Read More »


Sign up to receive our free Weekly News Bulletin