It’s no surprise that the waste-to-energy (WTE) industry in the U.S. faces some big challenges. Lower energy and commodities prices have taken a big bite out of profits for these operations in the last year especially. But panelists from some of the leading WTE companies in the U.S. are keeping a positive outlook.

During the 2016 North American Waste-to-Energy Conference (NAWTEC), a CEO roundtable brought together Steven Jones, president and CEO of Covanta; Jim Ferland, chairman and CEO, Babcock & Wilcox (B&W); and Jim Warner, CEO of Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority.

While Jones admitted the lower power prices were not favorable to power producers, the industry has done a great job at recovering metal. He pointed out that incoming waste still accounts for about two-thirds of the revenues for WTE companies. “Volumes have been strong,” he noted.

Warner spoke of how the lucrative power purchase agreements (PPAs) are a thing of the past. The authority went from receiving $56 dollars a megawatt to $21 dollars a megawatt. “The good thing is a lot of projects like ours are now retiring debt,” he told attendees. “While we are stressed with the energy end, we are able to withstand this type of depressed energy market because we don’t have the debt payment on projects.”

The long project development cycle in comparison with political cycles was discussed as a major hurdle in U.S. plant development. Jones also mentioned government support is much greater in Europe for the WTE industry. Ferland said there is not a lot in the queue for B&W domestically. By contrast, the company is building seven WTE facilities in Europe.

The ERC and conferences like NAWTEC and the Renewable Energy from Waste Conference are critical in putting information in the hands of officials who are making waste management decisions.

Jones says U.S. companies with what he described as special or profile waste are driving the industry here because of their emphasis on sustainability.

The latest figures from the Energy Recovery Council (ERC) put the number of plants in the U.S. at 77, operating in 22 states. Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, and two territories have defined WTE as renewable energy, according to the association’s latest findings.

The ERC and conferences like NAWTEC and the Renewable Energy from Waste Conference are critical in putting information in the hands of officials who are making waste management decisions. People come away from these conferences and research findings asking, “Why aren’t there more of these facilities being built here?” or “Why is Europe so much more advanced in its waste processing?” Those are questions we should not only be asking, but as an industry we can help solve.