Burning Public Money for Dirty Energy: Misdirected Subsidies for “Waste-to-Energy” Incinerators

Burning Public Money for Dirty Energy presents an overview of how U.S. energy policies are creating a range of subsidies for municipal waste incineration (MSW) projects, including emerging waste burning technologies of gasification, pyrolysis and plasma arc incineration. This report also identifies incentives for a wider spectrum of industries that are starting to identify as “waste-to-energy” projects, such as landfill gas to energy systems and anaerobic digestion (or biogas) facilities. Developers promoting waste technologies have increasingly positioned their proposals as energy generation projects in order to take advantage of these new energy subsidies and incentives.  Key findings include:

  • Having “waste-to-energy” (WTE) counted as a “renewable” energy creates a lifeline for an expensive industry that requires public funds to gain a competitive advantage over other approaches to waste management.
  • Most federal energy subsidies that benefit incineration are actually meant to support the development of real renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and micro-hydro, which should not have to compete against dirty energy for the same funding.
  • Although WTE projects currently access only a portion of the renewable energy subsidies available, these policies set a precedent for increased financial support for the industry and shape the political, technological, economic, and legal environment.
  • Federal energy and climate policy is slow moving, but such policies are moving forward much faster at the state level. The State Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) is a powerful driver for the expansion of the incinerator industry, in addition to opening the door for a range of state and federal subsidies.