Golden Gas Projects

The EPA recognizes the best and the brightest landfill gas projects and people.

Projects on the "cutting-edge," this year's four award-winners caught the attention of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Landfill Methane Outreach Program's (LMOP) judges by thinking "out of the box," forging new alliances, and creating business development opportunities that produced positive results for both the environment and the economy.

Once again, LMOP and Waste Age celebrate their efforts to productively utilize landfill gas and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills.

Project of the Year Green Knight Economic Development Corp. Waste Management Inc., Eastern Area Office Kurtztown, Pa. It started a little more than two years ago in a brightly lit school in Pen Argyl, Pa. More than 40 members from the community, Houston-based Waste Management Inc. (WMI), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) met to discuss the local landfill. Although landfills sometimes can be grounds for contentious debate, this meeting was different. In fact, it was the start of a revolutionary friendship and economic partnership between Waste Management and the community.

WMI owns the Grand Central Sanitary Landfill located in Plainfield Township, Northampton County, Pa., which is sandwiched between the boroughs of Wind Gap and Pen Argyl. These three municipalities are part of the "Slate Belt," an area where the slate quarrying industry thrived long ago.

"In recent years, the area has lost significant quarrying and manufacturing jobs, and there has not been new development to supplant those job losses," says Jim Policelli of the Green Knight Economic Development Corp. and long-time area resident.

However, an unexpected source - the landfill - was about to become a benefactor. In 1998, as Waste Management began looking for a way to use the 5,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of landfill gas (LFG) it was flaring, it came up with a strategy that simultaneously would benefit the community.

When WMI asked the municipalities to form a partnership to develop a project using the gas, all three municipalities, which comprise the Pen Argyl School District (whose mascot is the Green Knight) and an active citizens group, accepted.

The partnership between WMI and the community evolved, and in 1999, the community created an independent, apolitical, nonprofit corporation to manage the community side of the operations. With WMI's guidance and a mission to promote the municipalities' economic development, the task force incorporated the Green Knight Economic Development Corp. (GKEDC).

Following that, WMI developed a 10-megawatt (MW) power plant design and gave the Northampton County Industrial Development Authority (NCIDA) 20-acres adjacent to the landfill. The NCIDA planned to construct buildings on the land to lure businesses to the area. As owner of the plant, GKEDC would reap the net proceeds from the power plant. But first, GKEDC would have to own the plant.

With WMI's guarantee, a local bank loaned GKEDC $9.5 million for the facility.

With financing in place, Waste Management developed the LFG plant for GKEDC, securing the permits, managing construction and negotiating contracts on GKEDC's behalf. As the facility owner, GKEDC established construction, electrical interconnection and power sale contracts. Under a separate contract, WMI provided plant operation and maintenance.

"As the guarantor of the loan, it is in Waste Management's best interest to ensure the plant is running at its maximum potential," says Mark Messics, director of LFG energy for WMI's Eastern area.

Meantime, the agreement helps GKEDC's improve the environment, health and welfare of the community. GKEDC will sell wholesale, green power into the power grid, offsetting the possibility of new businesses using other, more polluting forms of energy. Additionally, by reducing methane emissions, the 10-MW project will reduce the pollution equivalent to removing approximately 80,000 cars from Pennsylvania's roads.

GKEDC believes that the promise of low-cost, green energy will entice businesses to the 20-acre "Slate Belt Industrial Park." The operation expects to realize annual six-figure net proceeds from power sales, which will be invested in future economic development projects. The power plant also was built to accommodate future expansion.

According to LMOP, this was the "Project of the Year" because of its unique structure: The project is owned by a community-based nonprofit corporation and the landfill is owned by a privately owned landfill company. "Members of the community are working together with a landfill owner/operator toward a common goal," Policelli says. "The benefits will be realized for decades."

State Ally of the Year South Carolina Energy Office Columbia, S.C. Behind every successful project, there's usually a champion. At the South Carolina Energy Office, employee Sonny DuBose has filled that role, working tirelessly on behalf of the landfills in his state to help them find project partners, gain easements and find funding in the hopes that they will eventually develop a beneficial landfill gas utilization project.

According to Dubose, his vigorous pursuit of landfill gas project development came from his desire to make a positive contribution to human health and the environment.

"Sonny is a champion of these projects at the state level," says Jerry Leone, director of landfill gas programs for Waste Management Inc., Houston.

Dubose's talent is in forming collaborative partnerships and getting a buy-in from project stakeholders at its onset, co-workers say. He has worked closely with the South Carolina Department of Transportation, the South Carolina Public Service Commissions, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, local communities, public and private waste firms, engineering firms, and state electric cooperatives to ensure that LFG projects overcome barriers to project development.

Because of Dubose's efforts, three landfill utilization projects, the first for South Carolina, are slated to become operational by June 2001. These three projects, which could heat as many as 55,000 homes, will save the equivalent of 150,000 barrels of oil per year. The environmental benefit is equivalent to removing 35,000 cars from South Carolina's roads, or to planting 48,000 trees each year, according to LMOP.

Six other sites across the state also are planning to develop projects.

Energy Ally of the Year PPL Corp. Allentown, Pa. For years, electricity generated from methane produced at landfills, wastewater treatment plants and farms have been a component of PPL Corp.'s power portfolio. Corporate support for methane reduction projects date back to 1991, and represents about 2 million tons of greenhouse gas reductions.

As deregulation evolved in many states, including Pennsylvania where PPL's corporate headquarters are located, PPL continued to seek innovative ways to succeed in the new energy marketplace.

Recently PPL's energy services marketing arm, PPL EnergyPlus, focused its efforts on finding ways to harness even more unused methane gas by developing new projects as part of PPL's GenSelect distributed energy program.

This year, PPL, an LMOP Energy Ally, joined with the Allentown (Pa.) Wastewater Treatment Plant to produce electricity from waste methane. The company installed 12 methane-powered microturbine generators at the plant. The plant generates about 80 million cubic feet of methane each year as a byproduct of sewage treatment. PPL EnergyPlus Marketing Manager Steve Gabrielle says "the microturbines will generate enough electricity to significantly reduce the plant's energy consumption and save the city about $150,000 a year in power costs."

Landfill power production facilities also continue to be an integral part of PPL's power portfolio. Currently, the company is purchasing power from Pennsylvania's Keystone Landfill, Lycoming Landfill and Taylor/Amity Landfill. And PPL assisted Empire Landfill in developing assets to support its new pipeline-quality gas production. The company also continues to develop partnerships with new landfills and expand existing landfill projects.

Besides power savings, using methane to generate power also reduces gas emissions. PPL reports emissions reductions to the Department of Energy's Global Climate Challenge National Data Bank, Washington, D.C.

"One of the things we are doing by capturing the methane is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming," says Reid Clemmer, a PPL environmental management supervisor. "By doing these types of projects, we produce electricity that benefits the environment, the public and ourselves."

In addition to the landfill and wastewater treatment projects, PPL promotes using fuel cell technology. On Sept. 21, 2000, PPL became the first North American distributor of fuel cells made by FuelCell Energy, Danbury, Conn., also an LMOP Industry Ally.

LMOP Partner Buncombe County, N.C. Nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina, Buncombe County, is host to 190,000 residents, tourists, vacationers and semi-permanent residents who are attracted to the area for its serene, beautiful terrain. Consequently, maintaining the appeal of the natural environment has long been a county government priority.

When it was time to close the county's older, neighborhood landfill, government officials wanted to do it in a manner that was consistent with the community's environmental commitment.

"We had an opportunity improve the condition of the landfill and put the landfill gas to good use at the same time," says Bob Hunter of the Buncombe County Solid Waste Office.

The old landfill originally operated from the late 1970s through 1997. Once closed, the county decided to move aggressively toward a landfill gas recovery system. But this required collaboration between the county's general services department, county administrative office, North Carolina department of environment and natural resources, Asheville Landfill Gas LLC (a private methane recovery company) and Buncombe county municipal service department (MSD), a water and sewer authority.

The County contracted with a landfill gas developer to design, permit, construct and operate the gas recovery system at the landfill. Two potential LFG users located adjacent to the landfill property were immediately identified: a duplex prison facility and the municipal service district (MSD). Through assistance from the county, Asheville Landfill Gas contracted with MSD for LFG use.

To date, the landfill gas recovery system has saved the community an investment for the landfill gas utilization system of more than $1 million, the cost borne by ALG, which was able to use tax credits to ease its capital investment.

MSD, which purchases power from Carolina Power and Light (CP&L) for approximately 7 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), has reduced its costs by approximately $500,000 per year. By using landfill gas, MSD could offset its need to purchase power from CP&L, and stabilize its energy costs. In addition to using the LFG to generate power, MSD uses the gas to heat the incinerator, which burns the wastewater sludge produced from the wastewater treatment process.

Since Buncombe County's gas system was completed in October 1997, it has been available approximately 99 percent of the time. The system has been expanded twice to collect from the most active gas areas in the landfill. "In all, this is a win-win situation," says Ed Mussler of the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources. "The current operation satisfies a requirement for the county at no direct cost, provides a cost saving for MSD's operation and establishes a private sector landfill gas recovery company."

Meantime, the county continues to pursue additional LFG opportunities. Currently, it hopes to develop a privately operated greenhouse nursery on county property adjacent to the closed disposal area. This county predicts this project could support approximately 30 acres of greenhouse and create 300 new jobs. Available gas onsite would be used to heat the greenhouses during cooler weather.

"We noticed that if we built it, people would come to the landfill," Hunter says. "We built an airplane strip, and the hobbyist and model airplane enthusiasts started to use the land near the landfill. Now, we hope to bring more people to this area to support the greenhouse business. This project is good for the economy and good for the community because it restores this beautiful land for productive use."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) is a voluntary program that helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by supporting the development of landfill gas utilization projects. LMOP recently held its fourth annual Conference and Project Expo in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 11-12, 2000. Awards were presented to the award winners during a luncheon.

Other conference highlights included a tour of the Oaks Landfill's Leachate Evaporation Project in Montgomery County, Md., a focus on innovative financing options and a record number of exhibitors and presentations from seven prime candidate landfills that are looking for project partners.

LMOP's 5th annual conference currently is slated for December 2001. For information, contact LMOP: or call toll-free: (888) STARYES.