rural waste: Rural Communities Renew Interest in Green Power

A thriving metropolis is not the only place to house a high-tech, "green power" facility. Pooling their resources, 12 rural cooperatives in Idaho, Oregon and Washington have developed the Coffin Butte Resource Project, a landfill gas-to-energy plant.

Five counties surrounding the Corvallis, Ore.-based project - Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion and Polk - provide municipal solid waste (MSW) to the Coffin Butte Regional Sanitary Landfill, 10 miles north of Corvallis. Approximately 350,000 tons of MSW is collected by Valley Landfills Inc. (VLI), Corvallis. VLI also has installed the wells that collect the landfill gas (LFG) to power the project.

The seeds for the project were planted 20 years ago, when the cooperatives banded together to serve the communities' electrical needs. They formed Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative (PNGC), Portland, an electric power services cooperative owned by 11 Northwest electric distribution utilities and had a 10 percent share in the Boardman coal plant in Morrow County. Through the years, the utilities have worked together on legislative, wholesale power rates and other issues.

Then, five years ago, the utilities realized that they needed to find other power generation resources. In October 1995, the Coffin Butte Resource Project began.

Coffin Butte has an annual generation of almost 21,000 Megawatt hours (Mwhr) of electricity and is identified as a renewable resource by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon DOE and the Environmental Defense Fund.

A collection system of pipes and wells at the landfill gathers the gas and directs it to the adjacent power facility, which sits in the town of Adair Village. The LFG then is de-watered, cleaned and compressed, and combusted in three 16-cylinder engine-generator units that produce electricity 24 hours per day.

PNGC acts as a power marketer and manages the power-supply for its member utility systems and other utility clients. In turn, those utility companies can sell the power to retail customers.

The resulting electricity supports the needs of approximately 2,000 homes. PNGC predicts the Coffin Butte project could generate another 3 to 4 Megawatts (MW) of electrical current in addition to the 2.5 MW currently being produced. The decision to further expand generating capacity, which PNGC expects to make within the next year, depends on consumer support.

Six of the utility owners already have been selling green power, and three more are expected to offer the electricity for retail sale in the next few months. Up to 30 percent of their customers said they would be willing to pay more for green power, according to a PNGC-conducted poll. Retail customers as far away as 500 miles can specify that they want to support green power electricity generation.

In general, the cost for energy generated by conventional resources, such as coal plants, natural gas-fired combustion turbines, is less than the costs for energy generated by renewable resources. However, energy generated from the LFG project is one of the least expensive "green power" resources available on the market, according to PNGC.

The utility owners currently sell their LFG power 2 cents per kilowatt hour higher than the price of conventional power.

The project was a first for PNGC and VLI, and had the typical "start-up" problems that often accompany a new facility. But once operations were squared away, electrical generation has been at a high level and all environmental regulations have been met.

Landfill odor practically is diminished, noise is below permitted levels, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants from other power generation forms have been displaced and power generation is extremely stable - despite the area's frequent electrical storms.

For more information on establishing landfill gas-to-energy projects, see "Developing Landfill Gas Projects without Getting Credit," World Wastes May 1998, page 50.

Call for Papers A call for papers for the Environmental Permitting Symposium, February 17-19, 1999, has been issued. Topics may include air permits, water permits, hazardous and solid waste permits and general permitting issues. Abstracts (200-250 words) should be submitted to: Technical Program Chair Leo Stander, Operating Permits Group, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (Mail Drop 12), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, N.C. 27711. Phone: (919) 541-2402. Fax: (919) 541-5509. E-mail: For additional information, contact A&WMA member services at (412) 232-3444 ext. 3142.