Report: U.S. WTE flat in 2017, including ‘virtually no new financing’
- The 2018 Factbook from the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows slow growth in 2017 for waste-to-energy (WTE), anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas, compared to other renewable energy sources in the United States.
- There has been “virtually no new financing” for such projects since 2015 when the Constellation Hyperion wastewater treatment co-generation facility in Los Angeles received $70 million. Additionally, biogas asset financing fell from $24 million in 2016 to $0 in 2017.
- Biomass feedstock prices fell in 2017, as well. Prices for green tons of feedstock dropped 20% in New York and 11% in the Pacific Northwest.
Financing new WTE or biogas projects can be tricky in the U.S., in part because landfill space is cheap in many regions, making the capital costs for a new facility harder to justify, and in part because residents don’t want some of them in their communities.
This debate has played out multiple times for traditional waste-to-energy combustion facilities, most recently in upstate New York. Economic and socio-political realities have led companies such as Covanta to focus on foreign markets for new WTE projects in Europe. China, too, has seen a dramatic growth in its WTE sector.
This being said, 2017 was not without new AD projects — the report shows an additional 54 MW from biogas projects and an additional 122 MW from biomass projects, with AD counted under biogas. For comparison, however, solar saw between 92 and 97 additional GW added and wind power saw an additional 7.3 GW.
Initial capital investment costs have been cited as the reason for interested developers not pursuing new AD projects. These trends could easily continue, as the recently passed federal budget deal gave a retroactive credit to some biogas projects, but extended similar credits to other sources of renewable energy. Executive Director of the American Biogas Council Patrick Serfass said at the time that the new budget deal was like giving other sources of energy a “30% advantage” over biogas.
However, biogas projects continue to be built at landfills and investment in new digesters is happening. After last year’s Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance report, Waste Dive reporting showed that organics could offer the strongest growth potential for creating renewable energy from waste. Lately, much of that activity has been in areas with policy incentives or diversion mandates such as California and the Northeast.
Between the inequitable tax credits being given to other types of renewable energy and the political opposition to WTE as a tool for “zero waste,” waste-related projects may not be seen as worthwhile investments. This certainly is in line with the current market reality: As noted by the report, the current and historical lack of investment in the WTE space indicates a slow future, in terms of immediate growth.
That could change, given the new parameters for infrastructure that the Trump administration wants — reducing the time and commitment that new project permitting takes could be a boon for energy development, though as things stand, there are just proposals, no introduced legislation.