Commentary: Go Slow on Unproven Technology

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, November 14, 2008

For me, the waste to energy proposal has always had a “too-good-to-be- true” quality to it. Under the deal proposed, a private company would build a plant to vaporize city garbage and use the synthetic gases created in that process to generate electricity.

But what the city doesn’t know about plasma arc gasification, as this new technology is known, could fill – well the county’s landfill at Kiefer.

The city doesn’t know if the project is financially viable; if it will meet government emission standards or if it will require more energy to operate than the plant will actually generate. The biggest unknown is simply this. Will it work? The new technology is promising, but unproven. Nothing exactly like this has ever been tried in the world, certainly never on the scale Sacramento is contemplating.

Given all the big unknowns, an increasingly skeptical city council was right to postpone a vote to move this project forward. They want more answers. That’s prudent.

If the city can’t get those answers soon, it should pass on this deal. There’s no shame in letting some other city become the first to enter the brave new world of plasma arc garbage disposal.


Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.