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Washington County to explore alternative energy sources

October 08, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Wind blowing off the Atlantic coast and methane produced by decomposing garbage could be future sources of energy in Washington County.

Both options were presented Tuesday to the Washington County Commissioners, who have scheduled a series of meetings over the next few weeks with companies that specialize in alternative energy sources.

Curtis Engine and Equipment Inc., which builds engines to capture methane from landfills, and Bluewater Wind, which is working to build offshore windmill parks, pitched their products to the County Commissioners and talked about ways governments can reduce reliance on traditional sources of energy.

"We've entered an era where every kilowatt counts," said Albert Grimes, president of Curtis Engine and Equipment Inc.

Landfill gases are being captured and used by other Maryland counties eager to lessen their dependence on expensive fossil-fuel energy sources.

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Prince George's County has been collecting methane from a landfill in Upper Marlboro since 1987.

Worchester County installed a methane-powered engine at its Central Landfill in July that can power up to 2,700 homes. Worchester plans to add two more engines at the landfill next year.

Wind energy has gained popularity in recent months, particularly after Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens began running television ads promoting the clean energy source.

Delaware recently approved a project to build windmills 12 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach.

David Blazer, Bluewater Wind's Maryland project director, talked to the commissioners about that project, as well as the company's goal to build a similar windmill park off the coast of Maryland, on Assateague Island.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said at this year's MACo conference that he would be interested in buying electricity from the Delaware project.

Blazer said several counties across Maryland would have to show interest in the Maryland wind project to get it off the ground.

"Today was one of the best meetings we've had since we've been in office because we talked about county goals, we talked about progressive initiatives," Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said.

Among the county's stated goals for 2008 are finding ways to increase recycling and reduce solid waste with new systems like a waste-to-energy incinerator or methane collection.

"We are looking at ways to become a greener community. (Methane collection) is one we have sitting here, waiting to be developed," County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

To collect methane in Washington County, Curtis Engine and Equipment Inc. would drill about one well per acre into Resh Road Landfill, which was closed in 2000.

Methane would be pulled through those wells into a chamber, where it would be frozen and cleaned.

Then the gas would be pushed through engines to produce electricity.

Grimes said 1 million tons of solid waste can produce about 1 megawatt of power, which can be handled by one engine.

He said the company will start programs at landfills with one engine as long as they have the potential to expand to two engines.

"It starts to make economic sense at 2 megawatts," Grimes said.

With 1 megawatt of electricity, the county could power 650 homes and prevent the use of 100,000 barrels of oil per year, Grimes said.

Commissioners President John F. Barr said he was intrigued by the proposal but its approval would hinge on the cost of running transmission lines to the landfill.

In Worchester County, Grimes said the project required no capital outlay from the county aside from the land.

The commissioners agreed Tuesday to let Curtis Engine take a tour of Resh Road Landfill and do a preliminary evaluation to see if the landfill is producing enough methane to make collection worthwhile.

Methane being produced at that landfill now is burned off with flares.

"Methane collection is definitely the way to go," Commissioner William J. Wivell said. "It's so wasteful just to flare it."

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