The I-95 Energy Resource Recovery Facility (E/RRF) located at the county’s I-95 Solid Waste Management Complex in Lorton is owned and operated by Covanta Fairfax, Inc. (CFI).
The E/RRF is one of the largest waste-to-energy facilities in the country. The facility has been in operation since 1990. Municipal solid waste (MSW) serves as the fuel for the facility, which is designed and operated in a similar manner to a typical power plant. Steam is produced from the combustion of MSW, and is used to spin turbine-generators that produce over 80MW of electricity. In addition to MSW, the facility processes waste items such as confidential documents, various materials confiscated by law enforcement, and other items that need assured destruction.
Ferrous and nonferrous metals included in the MSW stream delivered to the facility are also recovered from the combustion ash and recycled as part of the resource recovery process.
Renewable Electricity Production
By producing electricity using MSW, the facility avoids both the cost and emissions of using a fossil fuel to produce energy for sale. Since 1990, energy production by the plant has replaced the equivalent of approximately two million barrels of crude oil per year.
How Waste Is Processed
The following is a diagram of the energy recovery process, highlighting the emissions control system.
Air Pollution Control
Air emissions from the facility are continuously monitored for permit compliance. Exhaust gas from the facility is tested annually to confirm that emissions will not exceed permit limits. Similarly, ash produced during the combustion process is tested periodically to confirm that it is safe and appropriate for landfilling. Ash from the plant is disposed at the county’s ash landfill immediately adjacent to the facility. Finally, recovered water from the steam generating process is recycled many times before it is treated and discharged into the sewer system.
As part of a regional water reuse project, reclaimed water from the Noman M. Cole Jr. Pollution Control Plant is pumped via pipeline to the E/RRF. An estimated 560 million gallons of treated reused/reclaimed effluent is used as a substitute for potable water in the facility’s cooling towers. The project received $6.5 million in federal stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Clean Water Revolving Fund Loan Program. This project has undergone substantial coordination with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality as well as other local, state and federal agencies.
Incineration Is Cool For The Climate
The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), EPA, and the Commonwealth of Virginia all recognize that waste incineration with energy recovery is a key mitigation technology that reduces greenhouse gases caused by processing of municipal solid waste.
The E/RRF makes some significant and specific contributions to Fairfax County's efforts to remain a "cool county:"
- Manages Fairfax County trash right here in our community, reducing the need for fossil fuels to transport our waste to downstate landfills.
- Handles Fairfax County waste disposal now, rather than creating a new waste management legacy for the next generation.
- Eliminates methane gas and other greenhouse gases on a ton for ton basis.
- Generates approximately 670 kilowatts of electricity for every ton of trash burned, using a renewable fuel source.
- Recycles enough metal annually to build over 20,000 automobiles.
Update for January 2, 2018
After nearly 11 months of repairs and upgrades following a fire last February, the Covanta Fairfax waste-to-energy plant returned to normal operations on January 2, 2018. The facility has an upgraded fire protection system and operational changes were made to improve safety at the plant. For more information, please call Covanta Fairfax, Inc. at 703-690-6860.
Update for Oct. 18, 2017
Covanta Fairfax received authorization on Friday, October 6, to begin construction on its fire protection system. The former system has been completely removed, redesigned, and upgraded to meet or exceed all new code requirements. Covanta Fairfax expects the new system to be installed by late December. Final inspection and testing will be required before the plant receives permits to reopen.