LIPA board approves food waste project on Long Island

The Long Island Power Authority’s board of trustees has approved a waste recycling center on Long Island that promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region and divert waste from landfills.

The up to 6-megawatt facility in the Town of Brookhaven would be the first stand-alone large-scale anaerobic digester in the New York City metropolitan region. It is designed to collect waste food from businesses such as supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, and hotels and convert the waste into electricity, fertilizer, and nutrient-rich clean water, and biogas [An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the size of the facility as 4-MW].

Anaerobic digestion occurs when organic matter is decomposed by bacteria in the absence of oxygen. The biogas released during decomposition can be recovered, treated and used to replace traditional fossil fuels.

The project is expected to process about 180,000 tons of local food waste per year, as well as 30,000 tons of fats, oils and greases, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on Long Island by 85,000 metric tons a year.

“This is a great project for Long Island,” Tom Falcone, CEO of LIPA, said. “The developer has all the permits and we have a power purchase agreement and are ready to go.” The project is being developed and will be operated by American Organic Energy and is scheduled to enter service late in 2020.

The greenhouse gas reductions will come from avoiding the emissions of decomposing food that would be created by adding more food waste to existing landfills, as well as from the reduction in the use of an estimated 200,000 gallons per year of diesel that is now used to fuel a generator at the landfill and will be replaced by biogas.

The project also is expected to create at least10 full-time jobs and help retain more than 100 existing jobs at the landfill site.

The project will recapture gas from the existing landfill and collect and digest food waste and turn it into clean energy as well, all at an affordable cost, Falcone said. “It has multiple benefit streams.”

The project’s average residential bill impact on customers’ bills would be approximately $0.10 per month, which is in line with comparable clean energy facilities under LIPA’s control, the utility said.

Funding for the project is coming from a combination of state sources. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) Cleaner Greener Communities initiative provided $1.35 million, and Empire State Development via the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council made an award of $400,000 for the project.

“I don’t think this is going to be the last project of its type,” Falcone said. “It’s a source of clean energy, and the issue of food waste is not going away and the issue of landfills is not going away.”

The clean energy project supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Green New Deal, which aims to put New York on a path to a carbon dioxide-free economy. It also supports the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.