Officials: Landfill gas will be used for electricity
By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 23, 2010 1:46 PM
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
Methane generators are in place at the Wayne County landfill as Crowder Construction assembles the new technology that will eventually benefit the Goldsboro area. Methane Power is installing the generators that when operational can power homes.
DUDLEY -- Construction is nearing completion on a project at the Wayne County landfill that will turn methane gas into electricity that could eventually provide power for up to 1,600 homes.
The gas, a byproduct of decomposition in the landfill, is currently being flared (burned) off.
The project by Methane Power will not only generate possibly up to $50,000 annually for the county and it also will relieve the county of expenses associated with the installation and maintenance of the wells and piping required to capture the gas. It will free up some county employees and save the county up to $50,000 in costs associated with managing the well field, said Tim Rogers, director of the county's solid waste department.
The county was facing a $200,000 project to comply with a state mandate for new wells and piping in the landfill. Methane Power will now foot the bill for that work.
"We are dumping (revenue) back into the landfill to keep our landfill productive," County Manager Lee Smith said. "We can then have money to invest because the environmental rules are getting stricter. We have additional permits every year, but also to keep our costs down. We still have one of the lowest-cost landfills in the state."
Because it is an enterprise operation, the landfill does not receive sales tax and property tax revenues. It operates on gate fees and the $60 fee county residents pay annually to use the landfill. In other counties, the fees can be $200 or $300 annually, Smith said.
The county began looking at ways to reduce methane emissions several years ago, and decided to put in a vacuum system in 2003 in which the gas is removed from the landfill using a series of wells and a flare. The collected gas is directed to a central point where it's processed and treated.
For the past five years, the county has gotten rid of the gas by burning it off through a single flare located on a high point in the landfill.
However, that flare will diminish once the methane gas is converted to electricity.
The gas will be re-routed to generators provided by Methane Power, and the company will then create the electricity.
"Basically, what we were doing was destroying the methane by burning it," Rogers said. "Obviously it is a lot better to destroy through an engine to produce the power. That was the whole thought behind it."
Methane Power, which has a similar operation in Durham County, first approached Wayne County in April 2002.
"They came in bought the gas rights to our methane gas, a five-year contract," Rogers said. "At the time, it was thought the company would move quickly. I think (Methane Power) ran into financial issues trying to get their project funded so it kind of stretched out for five years and still hadn't gotten anything done. We were looking at going with another company, but Methane Power said they thought they had investors out of the United Kingdom."
The agreement with the county was finally signed in November 2009, but it still took some time to get the necessary permitting.
Rogers said the facility is about 80 percent completed.
"It probably will be completely done in three weeks," he said. "At present, the holdup is Progress Energy. It has got to pull a line from its substation to the generation plant. It is a pretty big project, a big line and Progress Energy has said it is not sure when it can be done. As soon as they get that connected they will probably run it for three or four months to get the bugs out, then we will have an open house and have everybody out."
During their meeting Tuesday morning, county commissioners approved Progress Energy's request for an easement to install facilities and to provide service for the project. Progress Energy will share the easement with Tri-County Electric Membership Corp.
Methane Power is leasing one-half acre from the county on which three one-megawatt generators are being built. Current plans are to have two running and to have one as backup if there is a need to take one down for service. The company is paying $1,200 annually for the lease.
"The nice thing about this is that any cost to do with this project is completely theirs," Rogers said. "The county doesn't have any money invested and we won't have any more invested in the well field. They are going to spend $200,000 on new wells, something we would have to do, but they are going to do that. We don't have any more cost as to keeping the well field up. They are going to manage it."
The county will receive 3.5 percent of the total revenues Methane Power makes from the plant.
"When producing three megawatts that will be about $50,000 annually," Rogers said.
Even though Methane Power will manage the well field, the county's environment technician will monitor it as well.
"We want to make sure that they don't try to pull so much (gas) that we have a problem," he said. "I don't think that will be an issue at all."
The county's goal had been to drop wells in the perimeter to keep the gas from migrating off-site. Methane Power plans to drop wells in other areas as well to help pull more gas.
"You have to be careful," Rogers said. "If you pull too much gas you will kill the bugs (microbes) eating the garbage that is making the methane. If you over pull it, you have to shut it down and let them regroup and start making methane again. It is a fine line. It is in (Methane Power's) best interest not to let that happen either. So it isn't like it is something they are going to try and do."
Rogers said it is hoped the operation will be producing power by the end of October and be fully operational by the first of the year.