For most of Westchester County, our household or business waste that is not otherwise recycled goes to the waste-to-energy plant in Peekskill, officially known as the Charles Point Resource Recovery Plant.
The Charles Point plant was established by Westchester County nearly 30 years ago to convert the County’s solid waste into electricity. The current operator is Wheelabrator, a Waste Management company.
“We generate 60 megawatts (MW of electricity) at capacity, which is enough to power 88,000 homes in our area,” notes Brett Baker, Wheelabrator’s operations manager at Charles Point. “We are one of the larger energy-from-waste plants in the Waste Management system.”
When you put out your garbage bin on the curb each week, it is collected either by your municipal public works crew or a private carter. For municipalities close to Peekskill, these local garbage trucks make the run up to the plant themselves. For municipalities further away, your waste is transferred to larger, sealed tractor-trailers for the transit to Charles Point. This transfer greatly reduces the fleet miles travelled and reduces the number of trucks making the trip to Peekskill.
Charles Point sells its electricity in the state's “day ahead” market. It needs run 24/7 to deliver the electricity it thereby promises to deliver.
The 60MW generation facility in Peekskill uses about 10% of the electricity that it produces to run itself. For example the large blower fans that drive the burning use lots of power.
Wheelabrator sells the rest-about 52 to 53 MW each day–into Con Edison's grid as a positive byproduct of processing the County’s solid waste.
About 2,250 tons of solid waste arrive at Charles Point each day, most of it by tractor trailer truck. Deliveries only arrive on weekdays–Monday through Friday. The huge enclosed pit building where the trucks deliver the waste can hold up to 9,000 tons. In short, the plant needs enough waste as fuel to burn over a long weekend.
Interestingly, Westchester County’s recycling program directly reduces the amount of waste delivered to Charles Point. You recall that–as of last year–we now recycle all the plastics from #1 through #7. As a result, Wheelabrator has excess capacity to take refuse from locations outside Westchester.
The delivered loads are inspected to make sure they do not contain valuable recyclable material (such metals, plastics, etc). Any ferrous metals (like the springs in your easy chair) that do make it into the plant are sifted out after the 2,200 degree Fahrenheit burning process and resold.
In order reduce the temperature of the stack emission down to its 340 degree Fahrenheit limit, Charles Point does use Hudson River water for cooling in a sophisticated, once-through method. Charles Point’s water intake permit allows up to 55 million gallons a day (MGD) from the Hudson River.
By contrast, the nearby Indian Point Energy Center, takes in a vastly larger quantity, 2,801 million gallons a day of Hudson River water to cool it’s much larger nuclear generation plant.
Another way to look at this comparison is Indian Point’s electric generation capacity is 33 times larger than Charles Point’s energy-from-waste capacity (2,000 MW v 60 MW). But Indian Point’s water intake permit allows 50 times more water to be heated and discharged back into the Hudson than Charles Point (2,801 MGD v 55 MGD). And Indian Point’s maximum allowable discharge temperature for the water it takes in is 110 degrees Fahrenheit, five degrees warmer than the Charles Point maximum of 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Charles Point's emissions are continuously and automatically monitored for air quality. Most of the 'exhaust' from the plant–after all the pollution reduction steps–is water in the form of some 200,000 gallons a day of steam. That steam is why you may see a white plume above the stack on a cold winter day.