Hughes Energy: solution or distraction?

Posted 11/8/22

MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County has a trash problem.

The county currently ships its solid waste to Seneca Meadows Landfill, explained chair of the county legislature Rob Doherty, speaking …

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Hughes Energy: solution or distraction?


MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County has a trash problem.

The county currently ships its solid waste to Seneca Meadows Landfill, explained chair of the county legislature Rob Doherty, speaking at a November 3 meeting of the legislature. That landfill is scheduled to close in about three years, he said, and the county needs to have another solution in the wings.

Hughes Energy has positioned itself as the answer to Sullivan County’s trash problem. It met with a mixed reception at the meeting.

Meet the company

Hughes Energy describes itself as “a clean tech company that recycles more,” according to its website. The company uses a proprietary steam autoclave technology, the Wilson System, to process organic waste and turn it into a reusable fiber product.

The CEO of Hughes Energy, Brendan Hughes, developed the technology through sister company Wilson Bio-chemical and sold “four or five” systems in Europe, according to Joseph Betro, Hughes Energy director of business development. When Hughes wanted to expand to the United States, he formed Hughes Energy as a source of private financing for projects using the Wilson System.

Hughes Energy proposes to build a steam autoclave facility at Sullivan County’s landfill (a landfill that is currently too full to accept any more trash). The company wants to build a small research-and-development plant to start, and to build a full-scale plant capable of processing around 400 tons of garbage per day to follow.

The system takes solid waste and processes it with a steam autoclave, a machine that sterilizes and pressurizes its contents. The process turns the compostable material in that waste into fiber, a product that’s usable in a number of ways. Betro said that the company is focusing on making paper from the fiber, after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) critiqued an earlier plan to sell fiber pellets as fuel; Wilson Bio-chemical is separately pursuing the use of fiber as biofuel.

The process does leave some waste, but the reduced amount of waste gives the county more options for its disposal including the use of smaller, closer landfills, Doherty said at an October 20 discussion of Hughes Energy’s plans. The autoclave process also redirects garbage that would otherwise be left to decay in landfills, eliminating a major source of methane gas, said Betro.

Public comments

Nine members of the public who attended the meeting expressed their concerns about Hughes Energy’s plans. Commenters pointed to the company’s contested applications in other New York counties and questioned the technology’s claim to be environmentally sound.

“Hughes positions itself as a green, sustainable, climate-friendly solution to the waste management crisis. In fact, they are anything but. Hughes claims they will use their steam autoclaves to spin garbage into gold, but their so-called recycling technology has been more aptly described as a garbage pressure-cooking plant,” said Rebekah Creshkoff.

There is an issue with solid waste, but Hughes Energy is a false solution, said Wes Gillingham, associate director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. The Mountainkeeper partnered with advocacy group Don’t Trash the Catskills to oppose Hughes Energy’s proposed project in Delaware and Greene counties, according to an article from the River Newsroom.

A legislature divided

The legislature split along faction lines, with chair Rob Doherty’s faction appearing to favor the proposal, and the members of the minority faction appearing more critical.

Legislators Ira Steingart, Joe Perrello and Nadia Rajsz requested that Betro provide them with a range of additional information, including documentation to back up his statements about the technology, and a video of the system in action.

“This is so unprofessional I just can’t believe it,” said Steingart, who critiqued the lack of information in Betro’s presentation.

The unknown is always scary, but it’s a fact that Seneca Meadows is closing, said Doherty. He warned that the costs of shipping trash out of the county could bankrupt it, and stressed the need for the county to find a solution. “Is Hughes Energy the solution? I don’t know if that’s the solution, But let’s hear what the people have to say so we can move forward in a responsible manner.”

Sustainable planning

Sustainability coordinator and deputy planning commissioner Heather Brown spoke at the meeting about the preliminary review her office had done of the project.

The DEC had on its website a comprehensive set of documents reviewing the Hughes Energy project in Greene and Delaware counties, she said. She was waiting for a final environmental impact statement on that project, but the preliminary SEQR documents had been completed.

Those documents indicate the DEC found potential significant effects on traffic, noise, odor and water resources from that facility, and is requiring additional study through the environmental impact statement. Visit for that documentation.

Brown said she isn’t at a place of no or yes at the moment, but at a place of needing to get certain questions answered. If the project reaches a stage where the DEC is comfortable with it, she would approve of it, she said; the DEC has capacities that the county lacks to review projects such as this.

The county does need to be looking at new solutions for its waste problem, Brown said. “Shipping a problem out of your backyard doesn’t eliminate the problem, it just makes it someone else’s problem.”

Next steps

Doherty invoked the legislature’s rules and moved consideration of the project to a meeting of the executive committee at 9 a.m. on Thursday, November 17. He said that he would talk with Gillingham about the project in the interim.

Betro said that he would take legislators’ questions by email, and that he would attempt to bring United States Department of Agriculture and DEC officials, with whom Hughes Energy had worked, to the next meeting.

Sullivan County, trash, Hughes Energy, composting


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