Pa. City Gets Nothing But Red Ink From 'Green' Investment

Matthew Sheffield
By Matthew Sheffield | March 20, 2012 | 2:33 PM EDT

The government of the state capital of Pennsylvania is bankrupt, and a Big Government "green energy" project is to blame. The city of Harrisburg has -- almost quite literally -- burned up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on a trash-to-energy boondoggle that resulted in the city being unable to pay its bills.

Seven years ago, the city decided to borrow $125 million to rebuild its trash incinerator to bring it into compliance with federal air quality standards -- after the feds shut it down for putting toxic pollutants into the air. The new debt was on top of the original debt the city still owed for building the incinerator in the 1970s.

But rather than just fix the air pollution problem, the city decided on a more ambitious project -- convert the trash incinerator into a "trash to steam" plant that would generate steam energy, and make money for the city. The city envisioned earning money by burning trash for neighboring towns and counties, and also selling energy. Trash-to-energy plants are seen by some environmentalists as a greener alternative to landfills.

The results for Harrisburg, though, have been disastrous. A 2010 New York Times story described how the contractor troubles, delays, cost overruns and political squabbles sank the city's finances as the city kept borrowing more and more money, "shoveling good money after bad into the job," leaving the city $288 million in debt. Meanwhile, the lucrative contracts to burn trash that city officials were banking to finance the project "never materialized."

This month, the chickens are coming home to roost in a big way.

As Bloomberg reports, Harrisburg has said it will miss general-obligation bond payments for the first time next week as its receiver seeks approval for a plan to sell assets. The insolvent city's debt load of more than $300 million is five times its general-fund budget.

Now that the city of Harrisburg has demonstrated conclusively that it can't manage the project, it is looking to sell off assets -- including the incinerator -- to raise cash. Barack Obama, through his failed corporate welfare to the likes of Solyndra, has provided conclusive evidence that throwing money into the green commode doesn't work at the national level.

Harrisburg is showing it doesn't work at the local level, either.

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