Camden Microgrid

Camden for Clean Air formed in May 2020 to stop plans to keep the Covanta Camden trash incinerator alive by having it serve as the power source for a proposed microgrid. The proposed microgrid would keep the power going for the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) sewage treatment plant in Camden so that it stays operating in case the power goes out, avoiding sewage backups. We support that idea, but did not like that powering it with the trash incinerator would enable Covanta to roughly triple their electricity sales revenue, making the aging plant more economically viable, and likely to stay operating for more years than it normally would.

VICTORY! After nine months of our applying pressure, it was announced in early March 2021 that the microgrid would not be powered by the trash incinerator, but by solar, digester gas, and batteries! See our press release below for details.

Microgrid Documents

  • Our 2-page Covanta microgrid factsheet (May 2020)
  • NJ Board of Public Utilities’ Microgrid program
  • Dec 2018 Camden Microgrid Feasibility Study (which looked only at Covanta’s trash incinerator as a power source, but could have looked at solar and energy storage, aiming to benefit from the NJ BPU’s Pilot Project funding for community solar microgrids)
  • May 28, 2020 Phase II Design Application for the microgrid. Page 23 (3-9) admits that “the reinvestment in Covanta’s class II facility preserves and extends the plant’s useful life.” This statement is from the same county whose officials have lied to the public and denied that the microgrid scheme would extend the Covanta trash incinerator’s life. It will do so by enabling Covanta to roughly triple their electricity sales revenue, as revealed in the feasibility study.

Victory Announcement & Next Steps

Press Release 8/3/2021:

Camden for Clean Air Announces Next Steps Following Victory Over Incinerator-Powered Microgrid Scheme

Camden for Clean Air won its first major demand: to stop a proposed microgrid in Camden City, NJ from being powered by the county’s largest air polluter, the Covanta trash incinerator. It was announced on March 5, 2021 that this proposed microgrid would instead be powered by solar, digester gas, and battery storage. The group will now proceed with its effort to close the incinerator for good.

Camden for Clean Air was formed in May 2020 upon learning that the proposed microgrid was being used as a life extension strategy for Covanta’s trash incinerator. If allowed to proceed, it would have enabled Covanta trash incinerator to roughly triple their electricity sales revenue. Project proponents admitted in writing that the microgrid would “preserve and extend the plant’s useful life,” even while denying this in public meetings.

This victory was the result of relentless pressure and advocacy from our group and others applied for nearly a year on city, county, and state level officials.

Despite this positive development and top ask of our group being granted, many unresolved issues remain with both the proposed microgrid and with environmental justice issues at-large in the City and County of Camden.

Some of these questions include:

  1. Will the Covanta trash incinerator’s exclusion from the proposed microgrid plan be formalized in writing, or via city or county ordinance or contract?
  2. Will the Covanta trash incinerator still be installing their missing baghouse filtration system and, if not, will Assemblyman Moen and Spearman move forward with their legislation requiring this?
  3. Will the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) still be building a pipeline of sewage effluent to the Covanta trash incinerator for them to use as cooling water, possibly extending the incinerator’s existence in the city?
  4. Will the ten small gas-fired power plants proposed in the Phase II microgrid plan still be installed around the city as related “nanogrid” operations?
  5. Will Holtec, Eastern Metal Recycling (EMR), Georgia Pacific Gypsum, and other polluting, largely property tax-exempt companies still be microgrid customers, or will this microgrid mainly serve public purposes as initially promised by the plan’s originator, former CCMUA and Environmental Justice Advisory Board Member, Andrew Kricun?
  6. Will the city and county reactivate their long-vacant environmental commissions and empower them to have a real say over environmental projects and environmental justice issues in our region?
  7. Will the community be assured that no other forms of incineration (so-called “waste-to-energy”) other than anaerobic digestion will be used to power the microgrid? [It is important to note that EMR originally proposed to incinerate auto shredder residue, but canceled it for lack of utilities which could be installed as part of the microgrid project.]

Possibly the most important question for local officials is will they publicly condemn the existence of the Covanta trash incinerator in the city of Camden and commit to ending the county’s waste contract with the facility?

Given that incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to manage waste, it is clear that the age of dirty energy production via trash incineration has come to a logical end in the state of New Jersey. The Covanta facility in Camden is reaching end of life, it does not use state of the art pollution filtration or even industry standard equipment such as baghouse filters, and it is the #2 top emitter of toxic lead in the entire trash incineration industry in the United States. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Camden Spruce Street air quality monitor located close to Covanta trash incinerator routinely scores the highest annual particulate matter level averages in the entire state of New Jersey. These high levels of particulate matter directly contribute to the extreme respiratory health disparities in the city of Camden.

Recent policy and state government reports are making it clear that trash incinerators are being phased out in New Jersey such as:

  • Covanta’s Warren County, NJ incinerator closed in 2019.
  • Covanta Camden routinely delays their baghouse filter installation.
  • The state of NJ explicitly cites their intent to phase out power from waste incineration, coal, and landfill gas by 2050 in their recently published Global Warming Response Act 80 x 50 Report.

The next step is for Camden County to stop contracting to burn its trash. We also will be looking for the state Assembly to end it’s classification of trash incineration as a “renewable energy” source in the state’s renewable energy mandate, causing ratepayer dollars to flow to incinerators instead of clean energy sources like wind and solar.

Camden for Clean Air is composed of local Camden City and County residents, students, and leaders from Energy Justice Network, NAACP local branches, South Jersey Progressive Democrats, Working Families Party, and Center for Environmental Transformation.

To get involved, contact Camden for Clean Air at:
Fill out our volunteer interest form at:
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: @CMDForCleanAir

Media Coverage:

3/8/2021Path to a Clean, Resilient Microgrid in Camden, New Jersey
3/6/2021Camden County needs a backup plan for future storms. Clean energy can be the solution, developer says
3/5/2021Officials Tout Resiliency Of Camden Microgrid
3/4/2021‘Micro’managing a good thing for N.J. city’s clean energy needs
3/4/2021Investing in resiliency for our power grid with renewables
6/2/2020Opinion: Covanta Doesn’t Deserve Chance to Expand in Camden
6/1/2020Residents Invited To Virtually Discuss Proposed Camden Microgrid Plan
5/27/2020Burning trash to generate electricity: Losing combination for Camden kids’ lungs and learning (Opinion piece by Camden for Clean Air member, Ben Saracco)
5/22/2020Microgrid Meets Resistance Over Ties to Camden Incinerator, Lack of Community Engagement
5/21/2020Opinion: Microgrid Innovation Promises to be Part of the City’s Sustainable Future (Freeholder Nash opinion piece)
5/19/2020Opinion: Burning Trash to Generate Electricity, a Losing Combination for Camden Kids’ Lungs and Learning (Opinion piece by Camden for Clean Air member, Ben Saracco)