Tulsa World - 21 Jul 07

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

(Copied 30 Oct 09)

Tulsa Burn Plant to Shut Down Monday

Minus the city's trash, the plant can't stay afloat.

Published: July 21, 2007

Tulsa's Walter B. Hall Resource Recovery Facility has found that it cannot survive without the city's business.

The burn plant at 2122 S. Yukon Ave. stopped accepting trash Friday and will close permanently Monday.

"We've tried to find alternative sources of trash to make up for what we lost with the city contract, but we haven't been successful," said Tom Simpson, president of WBH Generating LLC, a subsidiary of the New York-based financial firm CIT, which owns the plant.

The plant's 40 employees will receive severance packages, he said.

"Some of our employees have been with the plant for decades," Simpson said. "We wanted to stay open, even at a minimal, emergency level, for them, but we can't."

Only about a third of the 1,300 tons of trash needed each weekday to keep the plant open have been delivered from deregulated commercial haulers and other sources over the last three weeks, he said.

As a result, two of the three burners had been out of operation.

The plant will be locked up and secured, Simpson said, adding that plans for selling the property have not been formed.

"It was built to serve the needs of the city of Tulsa, so I don't know how much of a market there will be for it," he said.

For the last 20 years, the facility has incinerated the bulk of the city's 380,000 tons of trash generated annually.

The trash was turned into ash that was 10 percent of the original volume and then buried in a landfill.

But that changed July 1.

As a result of contract obligations and legal restrictions, the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy had no choice but to send the city's trash straight to Quarry Landfill, which had an agreement to be the next disposal site in line.

City Public Works Department Director Charles Hardt said, "In the end, I could not justify asking ratepayers to continue subsidizing a private business at a time when we have an existing agreement to take our refuse to the landfill, which charges a substantially lower disposal rate than the trash-to-energy plant."

Former TARE Chairman Stephen Schuller called the plant's closing "a loss to the community."

"It was an asset," he said. "But we really had our hands tied to where we couldn't negotiate. I can't say this was unexpected, but it's still a sad day."

Steam produced by the plant has supplied the nearby Sunoco refinery with power.

A Sunoco spokesman said contingencies were in place so that its operations would not be affected.

"Sunoco will continue to be a reliable supplier of product," Gerald Davis said.

The trash-to-energy plant was built in 1986 on the west bank of the Arkansas River.

It was conceived as a response to a national marketing blitz that predicted a landfill space shortage, which never became a reality in this wide-open area of the country.

Tulsa residents and businesses as of May 1 had paid off the $180 million cost of the plant through higher trash rates over the last two decades. But the city never owned the facility.

Officials decided at the time that it would be better to partner with a private company because of liability issues.

CIT is not the original owner. The plant shut down for several months in 2003 because of the bankruptcy of the owner, Covanta Tulsa Inc., and its eventual takeover by CIT.