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Municipal Solid Waste

Some cities, primarily in the eastern U.S., burn part of their municipal solid waste. Hemmed in by major population centers, landfill space there is limited, so burning waste to reduce its volume and weight is practical. Combustion reduces the volume of material by about 90 percent and its weight by 75 percent.222 But the heat generated by burning wastes has other uses, such as being used directly for heating, to produce steam or to generate electricity.

Texas had one permitted waste-to-energy facility in 2006.223 This facility, in Carthage, does not produce electricity. At this time, the Sharps Environmental Service Solid Waste Incineration Facility has the capability of producing steam for sale, but it is currently operating the facility only as an incinerator. In another part of the state, Dyess Air Force base has an agreement with two energy contractors to build a waste-to-energy facility that will turn waste from Abilene into energy for the base.224

The primary advantage of waste-to-energy plants is that they consume wastes from highly populated urban areas that otherwise would be put in landfills. The electricity the plants generate, however, is more costly than energy produced by coal, nuclear or hydropower plants.225 Furthermore, burning solid waste can release harmful emissions into the air.226


Per Million Btu (2005) $0.82 for electricity (wood and waste biomass).227
Direct Subsidy Share of Total Consumer Spending Federal: 0.4 percent (wood and waste biomass); State and Local: none.228
Notes The transportation of solid waste by truck, rail or water entails additional expense; electricity generation from solid waste entails transmission costs.

Economic Impact and Viability

Wages and Jobs Economic data on the municipal solid waste combustion industry in Texas are not available.
Regulatory Climate Municipal solid waste facilities must obtain air and wastewater permits from TCEQ, a process that usually takes about one year.229
Texas Competitive Advantage Texas has an abundance of raw material available, but the construction costs of waste-to-energy plants are high.
Notes The cost of waste-to-energy facilities is much greater than the cost of landfills – if the latter are available.230

Availability and Current Infrastructure

Estimated Resources in Texas Texas has just one waste-to-energy plant. Yet Texans threw away 30.5 million tons of garbage in 2006, and most of this waste was deposited in one of the state’s 187 operating landfills.231
Current Fuel Production Texans threw away 30.5 million tons of garbage in fiscal 2006.
Consumption in Texas No data available.
Notes Texas has one plant that is capable of producing steam for sale.

Environment, Health and Safety

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Burning solid waste produces an average of 876 pounds of CO2 per million Btu of heat energy produced.232
Air Pollution (Non-Greenhouse Gas) Burning solid waste produces 1.6 pounds of NOX and 0.23 pounds of SO2 per million Btu of heat energy produced, as well as dioxins, furans and trace amounts of mercury.233
Solid Waste Burning municipal solid waste reduces its volume, but may produce a hazardous ash byproduct that must be disposed of safely.234
Land Use Power plants that burn municipal solid waste require land for their sites. Any hazardous ash byproduct requires land for disposal.235
Water Withdrawal Depending upon the plant type, electricity generation from municipal solid waste requires withdrawals of between zero and 14,658 gallons per million Btu of heat produced.236
Water Consumption Electricity production from the combustion of municipal solid waste requires between zero and 150 gallons of water per million Btu of heat energy produced.237
Water Quality Water is required for boilers and for plant cooling. When discharged, this water is heated and contains some pollutants, potentially harming aquatic life and reducing water quality. TCEQ regulates and permits these discharges.238

Fuel Characteristics

Energy Content Variable, depending on the waste contents and moisture content.
Renewability Municipal solid waste is considered to be a renewable resource.

Other Issues

Dependence on Foreign Suppliers No significant issues.
Price and Supply Risks Generation of electricity or steam is dependent on having a steady, reliable supply of waste to burn. Down-time either from the lack of waste or mechanical issues would interrupt the supply of energy.
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