Landfill methane could earn county $200K
By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 24, 2011 1:46 PM
DUDLEY -- Wayne County could eventually earn up to $200,000 annually on what until recently was a waste product that was routinely just burned off -- the methane gas created by decomposition at the county landfill.
North Carolina-based Methane Power began construction last September on a $10 million facility that will use the recovered methane gas to power electricity-producing turbines that one day could provide power for up to 1,600 homes.
The project also relieves the county of expenses associated with the installation and maintenance of the wells and piping required to capture the gas.
The county had been facing a state mandate for new wells and piping in the landfill. Methane Power has assumed those costs, which could total as much as $600,000.
Along with replacing the piping, the company has added new wells to the gas collection system and new automatic pumps instead of the manual ones the county had used to pull water from the lines. A new flare also was added.
In 2003, a vacuum system was installed by the county to remove the gas from the landfill using a series of wells and a flare. The collected gas had been directed to a central point where it was processed and treated. For the past five years, the county has gotten rid of the gas by burning it off through a single flare.
The company is leasing one-half acre from the county at a cost of $1,200 annually for the plant.
"We are running at about 50 percent right now," said Leo LeBlanc, president of operations for Methane Power. "We are extending the well fields at the landfill to get more gas. Presently we are producing about 1,800 kilowatts and the plant is designed to be 3.3 megawatts -- three 1.1 megawatt machines.
"We expect to finish work in the well field by September, so I suspect it will be fully operational at that point in time. There is gas out there. We just had to drill more wells to get it, that's all. As the landfill grows we will expand our well field and we have designed the plant to be up to five units which would 5.5 megawatts, but I don't see us getting there for a couple of years."
The power generated at the facility is being sold to Progress Energy.
"We had a had a line put in directly to their substation," LeBlanc said. "It is about a mile and a half from the landfill.
"We knew it was a landfill that had plenty of waste in it. We knew that the possibilities for growth were very strong with what we saw. Again, the gas wasn't being used, it was being flared, just burnt. That is money going up the smokestack to us."
The company has a similar project at a closed Durham landfill where three units have been running since 2009.
"In addition to that, we have what we call a direct-use project in Greenwood, S.C.," he said. "We have a pipeline that runs from the landfill to the Fuji film plant down there that we fire their boilers."
Methane will last 20 years after a landfill is closed, he said.
"That is why we use the units manufactured by General Electric by a company called Jenbacher in Austria maybe about 10 years ago," he said. "It is the premiere product, if you will, because it is the most efficient and has the cleanest emissions of anybody else's product.
"These are 40-foot containers, so as the gas decreases at the landfill and we don't have enough to run say five units, we can pick those units up, put them on a truck and take them to another landfill. The units themselves have an economic life of 20 years."
Once the local operation, which is fairly automatic, is up and running, it will have a full-time operator. A well field technician will come in once a week to tune the wells to make sure the plant is getting the maximum amount of gas out of the landfill. Two other maintenance people will float in and out as needed, he said.
The county can expect to earn somewhere between $150,000 to $200,000 a year in profits once the plant is fully operational, LeBlanc said.
"We call it trash to cash," he said. "It was just wasting energy. We are still growing as a company and looking for other landfills. We have the gas rights now in Wilson County and we are waiting for gas flows to get up to the point that we can build a two-megawatt plant there, so it is a very active industry."
Construction on the Wayne County facility started in September and two units at the plant became operational shortly after Christmas, he said.
"We are going to have a dedication on Oct. 19," LeBlanc said. "We want to show people what the plant is all about. We do tours and show people how the plant runs.
"The big thing here is that we are producing electricity from a natural product, if you will, as the trash deteriorates. That is that much less oil that we have to burn and that much less pollutants that we put into the air. We call it green energy and truly it is. We are very proud of the plant. The quality of the work was just phenomenal."