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Borough could get gas from landfill

January 13, 2009|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Instead of the faraway Gulf of Mexico, Chambersburg could be getting the bulk of the gas it sells to residential customers from a source just a few miles away -- the IESI Blue Ridge Landfill in Scotland, Pa.

The Borough Council on Monday authorized the administration to take a number of steps that could result in Chambersburg drawing up to 58 percent of the gas it needs for its 5,000 residential and commercial customers, according to a report by Downes Associates Inc. If used for power generation, the methane given off by the landfill could generate almost one-fifth of the borough's electricity needs, said David Downes.

The most efficient way of moving the landfill gas (LFG) gas to the borough is a pipeline, a distance of about 10 miles, Downes estimated. The methane gas collected by the landfill operators is currently burned off, but Downes said it could be refined on-site, piped to the borough distributed to borough customers or stored and used for power generation.

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The project would not be cheap. Downes said it would cost upward of $20 million. The cost of the methane, however, would be considerably below what the borough now pays for natural gas, he said.

The payback period would be 20 years or less at current natural gas prices, Borough Council President William McLaughlin said. The higher natural gas prices go in the future, however, the shorter the payback period, he said.

The landfill's production of methane will peak around 2024, though it would continue to produce methane for decades, Downes said.

Vito Galante, the regional vice president for engineering and compliance for IESI, said the landfill will reach capacity in about 13 years, although it could reach an agreement with Greene Township for a "vertical expansion" -- raising the height of the landfill, which could add another 17 years to its lifespan.

Chambersburg could become "the national poster child for this type of energy project," McLaughlin said, but only if it makes economic sense.

"If it makes sense, we will do it. If it makes us feel good, that's not enough," McLaughlin said. He and Galante both said the project could be negotiated and built within two years.

The council authorized further analysis of the study performed by Downes; negotiating a gas purchase agreement; evaluation of securing rights of way; beginning the selection process for a developer or contractor; research on available grants and loans; and an update of the borough's capital budget.

The LFG project would benefit the borough economically and environmentally, according to the Downes Associates study.

Environmentally, it would harness what is now wasted energy and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 32,517 passenger vehicles, the study stated. The LFG could also be used for future applications, such as transportation.

Economically, the project would ensure a local and renewable energy source with a stable price, unlike natural gas which can fluctuate widely as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The predictable source and price could also spur industrial, commercial and residential development, according to the study.

Stored LFG could be used by the borough's power plants to lower its cost of buying electricity during peak consumption hours, Downes said.

Possible financial assistance could be obtained through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, according to the study.

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