NC municipality plans to refurbish idled WtE facility

By Matt Soberg | September 20, 2011

Despite prior financial difficulties, political controversy and being idle since spring 2011, plans are in the works to refurbish and operate the New Hanover County Waste to Energy Conversion Facility (WASTEC) in Wilmington, N.C., with requests for proposals issued in October. The Department of Environmental Management handles waste disposal for New Hanover County and includes recycling, landfill and waste-to-energy (WtE) systems.

The county is searching for a partner with the necessary technology and service capabilities to make the system operational. “We are in the process of writing requests for proposals and hope to have a company on board in late spring 2012 with a plan to refurbish and operate the plant,” said John Hubbard, the director of the New Hanover County Department of Environmental Management.

Financial difficulties resulted in necessary support from the county’s general fund, and because the WASTEC was unable to be self-sustainable, the county decided to stop the financial bleeding. The facility went idle in April with approximately 40 jobs lost.

The WASTEC was the first WtE plant in North Carolina and began operation in 1984. The plant was also one of the first in the nation to apply cogeneration technology, generating both steam and electricity, according to New Hanover County. 

The WASTEC utilizes municipal solid waste and is considered a mass burn combustion facility with no special preparation given to the waste stream before combustion. The system has a 500 ton-per-day capacity that includes two original 100 ton-per-day boilers along with a 300 ton-per-day boiler added in 1991 pursuant to a $27 million bond for expansion. The plant processes approximately 140,000 tons of feedstock per year. 

When operational, the system produces steam to turn two electrical generators and has a 10.5 megawatt capacity. Pollution is controlled through high-tech equipment consisting of scrubbers, filter baghouses, emission monitoring systems and other pollution controls.  

The combustion results in 85 percent waste reduction for the county. “To illustrate the amount of reduction achieved by WASTEC, for every 100 trucks of trash that dispose trash at WASTEC, only 15 trucks of ash are carted to the landfill,” according to New Hanover County.