Waste & Recycling


Energy from Waste Leadership

The Covanta Onondaga Resource Recovery facility in Jamesville, New York is an outstanding example of environmentally clean and efficient conversion of post-recycled residual solid waste into electrica...

The Covanta Onondaga Resource Recovery facility in Jamesville, New York is an outstanding example of environmentally clean and efficient conversion of post-recycled residual solid waste into electrical energy. This waste to energy (WTE) is the cornerstone of the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency’s integrated waste management system. Commissioned in 1995, the facility has been providing reliable services to the city of Syracuse and the County of Onondaga for thirteen years.

With WTE proposals coming forward in Canada and different information presented about the effectiveness of this type of technology, the Onondaga plant is a useful example and is worthy of close inspection.

Over the years, excellent performance by the Onondaga facility achieved industry recognition through a number of awards from state and federal organizations. In 2008, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers named Onondaga the winner of the large WTE facility award for industry leadership in operational efficiency and environmental performance. This achievement was matched by the National Safety Council “2008 Outstanding Facility” award and, in 2007, Onondaga won the U. S. EPA’s coveted National Environmental Performance Track Endorsement citation.

In the late 1980s, Onondaga County completed a comprehensive integrated waste management study with a recommendation to construct a WTE plant. Ogden Martin Systems was competitively selected to design, build and operate the facility. At the request of Onondaga, the New York State Legislature created OCRRA, an independent public entity, to finance and implement the integrated waste management plan. OCRRA’s mandate was to provided waste management services across the entire county and to obtain the required WTE facility permits from New York State’s Department of Environment Conservation. A condition of the approval process required OCRRA to submit a comprehensive health risk assessment to the state. Initial local opposition to the facility delayed project approval for several months, as environmental and health risk claims were reviewed by the state’s judicial system and eventually dismissed. In due course the required permits and operating conditions were approved and OCRRA proceeded with facility construction.

The plant

OCRRA selected a five-hectare site in Jamesville, N. Y., just south of Syracuse (and adjacent to Interstate 81). The facility is housed in a modern industrial building designed to offer aesthetically pleasing features for the many visitors who come to further their knowledge about energy from waste. The facility features a combustion system incorporating Martin Gmbh technology developed in Germany. Three independent furnaces, with a combined capacity of 885 tonnes per day, are equipped with reverse reciprocating grates that operate with combustion temperatures in excess of 982 degrees Celsius (1800 degrees Fahrenheit). Steam from the waterwall boilers is superheated on its way to a 39.5 megawatt tur- bine generator. Turbine exhaust is directed to air cooled condensers with sufficient capacity to maintain the combustion process if external emergency conditions interrupt the delivery of electrical energy to the grid.

The plant is equipped with sophisticated air pollution control equipment featuring semi-dry flue gas scrubbers, fabric filter baghouses, lime and activated carbon injection, nitrogen oxide and mercury controls together with continuous emission monitoring. Particulate matter filtered from the gas stream is collected as fly ash, mixed with furnace ash, tested to ensure compliance with federal toxicity standards, and used for landfill cover. It should also be noted that incoming trucks are scanned for radioactive material, and if contaminated, redirected to an adjacent OCRRA hazardous waste transfer station.

The plant was commissioned in February 1995 and has performed flawlessly for 13 years. It’s currently operated by Covanta Energy under a 20 year services agreement that guarantees OCRRA key performance criteria of waste processing capacity, environmental compliance and energy efficiency. The plant operates continuously year round with individual furnaces withdrawn from service for a brief period of annual maintenance. Approximately 450,000 residents depend on the facility for the disposal of residual waste.

OCRRA has integrated facility operations into one of the most successful recycling and composting programs in the State of New York, with diversion performance well above the national average. In 2007, OCRRA reported a recycling rate of 65 per cent — more than a third higher than the national recycling rate. Typically, post-recycled residential waste provides 97 per cent of the waste processed by the facility. The plant produces an excellent return on investment with tipping fees of $58 per metric tonne. Additional revenue is derived from the annual recovery of approximately 10,000 tonnes of recyclable metals. The net cost of OCRRA’s recycling and composting programs are fully funded by revenue generated by the WTE facility.


In 2007 the facility, operating at full capacity, processed 313,000 tonnes of residual waste and delivered 222,666,587 kilowatt hours of electricity to the national grid. Each tonne of trash produced 712 kilowatt hours of net electrical energy. Revenue from electricity sales totalled $13,359,995. Over the thirteen-year period, the plant achieved an availability record of over 90 per cent, which is significantly higher than all other forms of power generation. It’s interesting to note that during the massive black out in August 2003, the Covanta Onondaga facility was back online as quickly as the grid stabilized and was able to accept energy. This performance was matched by many of the 45 waste to energy plants serving the U. S. Northeast.

Studies conducted by the US EPA conclude that WTE facilities reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 1.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per tonne of waste combusted. Using the EPA numbers confirms that the Covanta Onondaga facility avoided 406,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas being emitted into the atmosphere in 2007.

From day one, the Covanta Onondaga facility has maintained full compliance with the most stringent safety standards and air emission permits in North America. Over the years, ongoing incorporation of the latest emission technology has also reduced emission contaminants to the point where the vast majority of continuously monitored and tested emission constituents are a minute fraction of permitted levels. Recent independent emission tests indicate an annual release of dioxins and furans of less than one per cent of permitted levels.

The performance of the Onondaga County Resource Recovery facility is a monumental credit to the officials who planned the integrated waste management system with clarity of vision and determination. The level of leadership and service is best appreciated by visiting the facility.

Ed McLellan, P. Eng. is an active member of Peterborough Men’s Professional Group in Peterborough, Ontario. Contact Ed at el.mclellan@sympatico.ca


“Revenue from electricity sales totalled $13,359,995.”

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