McKay Bay History
Waste-to-energy is a worldwide industry. In the United States, 88 waste-to-energy facilities process 100,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste, which is everyday household and commercial garbage and trash. At the same time, these facilities generate enough electricity to meet the needs of more than two million homes. In Florida, 12 waste-to-energy facilities from Key West to Panama City process nearly 20,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste (enough to fill Raymond James Stadium) while producing over 500 megawatts of clean, renewable power. Four of these facilities are located in the Tampa Bay area in the City of Tampa, and the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco. These areas have relied on waste-to-energy for many years as the backbone of their integrated waste management systems. Without these facilities, our local governments would be faced with the daunting task of siting large landfills near our rapidly growing residential communities.
In the late 1970s, the 19 most populated counties in Florida were required by state law to investigate resource recovery: recovering energy and materials from municipal solid waste. Although waste-to-energy was commonly used in Europe and Japan at the time, it was relatively new in the United States. Waste-to-energy has since emerged in Florida and the rest of the country as a clean, reliable method of waste disposal.
Recently, the State of Florida, along with other states around the country, has taken an interest in the subject of renewable energy in order to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. There are two basic types of renewable energy -- non-combustion and combustion based sources. Solar, wind and hydropower are the non-combustion sources that usually come to mind when people hear the term renewable energy. Combustion sources are usually "biomass" facilities that burn wood and agricultural waste, yard trimmings and municipal solid waste. Waste-to-energy is a significant contributor of renewable energy in the State of Florida.
Surprisingly, solar, wind and hydropower do not play a major role in providing renewable energy in Florida. Although we think of Florida as windy, it is not the steady type of wind necessary for energy production like that found on hilltops, as in Texas and California, or in flatlands, as in Kansas and Wisconsin. (One of the strongest wind states is North Dakota.) Major sources of hydropower are lacking in Florida. There is some potential for solar power if it is incorporated into new construction; however, it is very expensive compared to other renewable energy sources. The best opportunities for producing significant amounts of renewable energy in Florida will likely come from combustion-based sources. Half of Florida's population is served by solid waste systems that utilize waste-to-energy, and the state's 13 facilities put Florida in a position of producing more energy from solid waste than any other state. Generating energy from solid waste is very compatible with materials recycling programs. In fact, communities with waste-to-energy facilities have some of the most successful recycling programs, utilizing curbside collection, drop-off centers, and metal recovery at the facilities themselves.
At Tampa's McKay Bay Waste-to-Energy Facility, what cannot be recycled is incinerated at high temperatures, generating steam, which is supplied to a turbine generator that makes electricity. The Tampa Electric Company purchases the electricity generated by the McKay Bay Facility. Revenues from the sale of the electricity help to offset the costs of waste disposal. In addition to recovering energy from municipal solid waste, Tampa has a materials recycling program for recovering glass, aluminum, paper, and yard waste. Additionally, the City, along with other Florida communities, is currently looking into the possibility of recycling the ash that remains after waste is combusted at the waste-to-energy facility. Ash recycling is fairly common in Europe, and is just beginning to make its way into the United States and parts of Asia. Ash from waste-to-energy facilities can be used as a substitute material for road construction and in commercial construction applications such as structural fill, pipe bedding, and paving and cinder blocks. Another key recycling activity conducted at waste-to-energy facilities is the recycling of metals separated from the ash after combustion. Wheelabrator, the operator of Tampa's McKay Bay Waste-to-Energy Facility, recovers enough metal at this facility to produce 4000 automobiles per year.
In keeping with the Clean Air Act of 1990, waste-to-energy facilities in Florida and the rest of the United States have recently been retrofitted and have state-of-the-art technology for the control of air emissions. Waste-to-energy facilities are one of the cleanest sources of renewable power in the world, and are a good partner to recycling in our local communities' waste management programs.