From Trash To Energy

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Gaston County's landfill would be about the last place you'd look for buried valuables, but as the old adage proclaims: One man's trash is another man's treasure.

And in this case, the methane gas rising from Gaston County's garbage could produce enough electricity to power the town of High Shoals, according to the county's public works director Ray Maxwell.

Maxwell laid out plans this week for a $5.5 million electric plant that would produce three - six megawatts of electricity from methane captured at the landfill for the next 30 years. That amount of electricity could generate about $1.3 million annually, Maxwell said.

Plus, by preventing greenhouse gases from polluting the atmosphere, the county could earn carbon credits worth an estimated $600,000 and use that money to repay financing on the new electric plant, he said.

Ultimately, the proposed landfill electric plant could become the hub of a public-private energy park, converting the county's waste stream into a revenue stream.

"We'll take what has historically been viewed as a liability and turn it into more of an asset," Maxwell told the board of directors for the county's Economic Development Commission last week.

A green standard

Methane forms in a landfill as solid waste decomposes. Landfills account for 34 percent of all methane emissions, which contribute to global climate change, according to NC Green Power, a non-profit supporting renewable energy projects. Buncombe County, Catawba County and the city of Concord already make electricity from landfill methane, according to NC Green Power.

Gaston County began installing methane wells and started collecting the gases over the past year and a half. Right now, the landfill has an eight-foot flame, flaring about 850 standard cubic feet of methane per minute. That flare is expected to grow to 1,200 cubic feet per minute this year, which is enough methane to power 1,900 homes, Maxwell said.

A power plant could be up and running in early 2010, Maxwell said. The county is meeting with Duke Energy, which could buy the methane-powered electricity. Three megawatts would not be a large amount of power in Duke Energy's portfolio, but would help the company meet renewable energy standards, which require utilities to supply 12.5 percent of electricity from renewable sources.

"We think there's a lot of benefit," Maxwell said. "If we weren't flaring methane, it would just be escaping into the atmosphere."

Creating green jobs

The county recently approved $280,000 in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for additional gas extraction wells and other energy efficiency improvements at the landfill, Maxwell said. Special financing and assistance should be available for the landfill power plant. Operation of the plant should be self supporting without any tax payer subsidies or fee increases at the landfill, he said.

The biggest challenge facing the project is the need for water and sewer service to the property. Maxwell said the city of Gastonia is considering a sewer line through the property to serve High Shoals. And water tanks that once furnished the Hardin Mill and surrounding village could serve the project temporarily, he said.

In years to come, Maxwell said he hopes to attract other small companies to a proposed 50-acre energy park adjacent to the 500-acre landfill, which borders the South Fork River off of Philadelphia Church Road. The county could offer its electricity to power other companies that produce products recycled from landfill waste, including biodiesel made from waste cooking oil, recycled drywall, compost for greenhouses and cellulose insulation made from old newspapers.

"We're looking to create jobs," Maxwell said. "This would be smaller footprint companies that use resource from our waste stream or local area and ultimately produce a marketable product in the end."

Methane is a well-known source of power, it was in fact the very source of power intended for the first electricity generating plants ever built but then came coal and cheap oil and, well, the rest is history, as they say.

Methane gas is found in every landfill, every sewage works and in every slurry pit and with the right facilities extraction if not difficult and the use of it is simple. Just the political will power seems to be lacking time and again and that predominately because of the lobbying power of the coal, gas, and oil industry.

The oil industry not only is in bed with government, in many cases it is in the government and ever the government, as is still the case for the USA.

© 2011