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Could waste energy power the future of Washington?

A waste energy plant in Copenhagen. It doubles as ski slope. (Lars Plougmann)

Before the recent legislative session ended in Olympia, state Senator Guy Palumbo had one last piece of businesses to squeeze in. Some might say it was a rather wasteful bill.

Palumbo’s SB6019 encourages a new form of energy production in Washington state — waste energy. It’s exactly what it sounds like — burning solid waste that the county normally sends to a landfill to create energy. King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert has promoted similar waste energy ideas.

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You can read the full text of SB6019 here. The bill is a few years in the making. It began when a handful of state politicians traveled to Copenhagen to learn about energy alternatives. Lambert also notes Copenhagen as her inspiration for waste energy in King County.

“And they have it right in the middle of Copenhagen,”Palumbo said. “They have a waste energy facility right there in the middle of their downtown … we all came back thinking we should work on it.”

Side note: The facility in Copenhagen not only burns waste to make energy, it also doubles as a ski slope.

Palumbo says he threw the bill out there “just to get a conversation started,” partially to address two problems he’s concerned about: Where to set up such a facility, and focusing in on costs.

Palumbo notes that most utility companies in the region don’t need any extra energy, so they don’t need to look to waste energy. The method can also be cost prohibitive. Palumbo’s proposal includes a tax credit to get companies on board.

“In terms of the siting of the facilities, the air quality issue is one of the main reasons these places don’t exist,” Palumbo said. “Because no community wants it in their town. I think this is one of the more controversial parts of the bill that I’m sure will need to get worked if it’s going to get passed.”

The bill proposes a SEPA exception if a waste-energy plant is located within a mile of an existing landfill.

“In terms of credits, I basically give a complete B&O and sales and use tax credit for any entity that is going to create one of these facilities next to a landfill,” he said. “So it makes it more financially possible to do it.”

Finally, Palumbo’s proposal copies the Copenhagen model. It encourages locating manufacturing centers near the waste energy plants so their operations can more directly benefit from it to create heat and power. There is another B&O tax credit for manufacturers, too.

“So maybe we can get some manufacturing going in rural areas around waste energy plants, next to landfills,” he said.

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