Shawn Beals / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Outside the trash-to-energy facility (Shawn Beals / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT – The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority’s board of directors voted Thursday to begin shutting down the last publicly owned trash-to-energy plant in Connecticut.

The facility in Hartford’s South Meadows neighborhood accepts trash from 51 member towns and many private haulers, but the equipment is outdated and the municipalities can’t afford to pay for improvements alone.

Towns that contract with the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) for trash removal and recycling are currently paying about $83 per ton, and that is projected to go up to about $91 in the next fiscal year.

Over the past two years, MIRA officials have been trying to combine state bonding, a new power-purchase agreement for the energy generated by the plant, and renewable energy credits to keep the cost of disposal to about $95 per ton after the plant is renovated.

But without those three additional revenue sources, towns will have to pay $145 per ton for their waste disposal – a 42% increase over the current rate. That was unacceptable to municipalities.

“I’m disappointed that if we’re going to have a quasi-public presence in the state, in this line of business, it needs support and it needs some state support,” said Manchester Town Manager Scott Shanley, who also served on the MIRA board.

East Granby First Selectman and MIRA board member Jim Hayden said he thinks it’s a “tragedy” that the state is no longer going to be “self-sufficient” in trash.

Pat Widlitz, a MIRA board member and former lawmaker, said she did not get on the board to help begin “shipping our waste out of state and just toss out 40 years of our success in managing our own waste.”

Widlitz said “MIRA is a public-private partnership and we’re missing the public right now.”

Most board members were disappointed in the state’s decision not to help provide financing to continue operations. The state does have a small window to come up with financing—Aug. 31. 

“Every environmentalist should be shocked and appalled that we are going to revert to landfilling,” MIRA Vice Chairman Richard Barlow said. “And not only landfilling, but landfilling in other states.”

MIRA has been working on a plan to modernize its operations for more than two years with a European developer chosen by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The board voted Thursday to allow that contract to expire since it was unable to get any of its members to agree to a proposal that would cost them $145 per ton for the next 30 years.

“MIRA has concluded that the Project is not viable,” it wrote in the resolution approved by the board Thursday.

DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes was disappointed by the decision.

“It is unfortunate that MIRA was not able to come to terms with an innovative partner to update and revitalize the Hartford Resource Recovery Facility,” Dykes said in a statement. “MIRA has the responsibility to provide reliable service to more than 50 Connecticut municipalities for several years to come, and we look forward to hearing from MIRA its plans to continue to provide reliable service in a manner that is consistent with the state’s waste hierarchy.”

Thomas Kirk, executive director of the agency, said the contract ending means that they will have to start trucking trash to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York by 2023. That’s because without state support it’s no longer viable to operate the plant.

“Hauling waste out of state is a big giant step backward,” Kirk said.

He said they tried to warn state lawmakers that they would close the plant if they didn’t get either $330 million in general obligation bonds or a power-purchase agreement like the one created for the Millstone Power Station a few years ago.

Kirk said there are no viable, less costly solutions because the technology is not there yet.

“Forty years ago Connecticut made the right decision to stop burying our garbage,” Kirk said. “Now we’re going to bury it in another state.”

Kirk said he hopes that over the next couple of months they can come up with a financial alternative, but the prospect of keeping the trash-to-energy plant open is not looking good.