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Landfill gas could be energy source

April 28, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

County to offer new recycling options

HAGERSTOWN -- The Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward with a renewable energy project to capture from a county landfill methane gas that eventually could be converted to electricity.

As early as next year, the county could begin earning royalties of more than $30,000 a year from the sale of "carbon credits" earned by destroying the methane, a greenhouse gas produced by decaying waste in landfills, according to a consultant from Curtis Engine, the company that would build and operate the system.

After the company begins the electricity generation phase of the project, the county could earn more than $230,000 a year, Curtis Engine consultant Thomas Koch said.

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The commissioners voted 4-1 to authorize county staff to move forward in developing an agreement with Curtis Engine for the project, with Commissioner James F. Kercheval opposed. Kercheval said he thought the commissioners were moving too fast and he wanted more time to consider the matter before committing to a company.

The project would take place at the Forty West Landfill, which is off U.S. 40 about one mile west of Huyetts Crossroads. Officials are still working on a proposal for a methane gas collection system at the older, inactive Resh Road Landfill, which would be more complicated because of its age, Koch said.

The project would be launched in two phases, Koch said.

In the first phase, Curtis Engine would install about $1 million worth of equipment necessary to recover the gas and would begin "flaring" it in a chimney-like enclosure, which prevents the methane gas from reaching the atmosphere, Koch said.

This environmentally friendly process would qualify for "carbon credits," a standardized measure of efforts taken to cut down on greenhouse gases, which have been linked to global warming, Koch said. These credits can be sold to businesses and individuals seeking to offset their carbon footprints by paying for the elimination of greenhouses gases equivalent to the amount they emit.

While Curtis Engine recovers the costs of installing the equipment, it would pay the county 10 percent of the proceeds from the carbon credits, which will probably be about $35,000 a year, Koch said. After recouping its costs, which would take about five years, the company would begin paying the county 25 percent of the carbon credit proceeds, or more than $120,000 a year, he said.

In phase two, the company would build a plant to generate electricity from the process, which would then be sold to a local power company. In addition to continuing to receive the carbon credit revenue, the county would also get an annual cash payment from the electricity sale, estimated at about $110,000 per year, Koch said.

By that point, the landfill will probably have enough waste to generate two megawatts of electricity, Koch said. That is enough to power 1,300 homes for a year, and is equivalent to saving 200,000 barrels of oil a year or removing the emissions from almost 20,000 cars per year, he said.

Curtis Engine is a Maryland company that has installed similar systems for counties including Prince George's and Worcester. Under its proposed agreement, the county would grant the company exclusive rights to extract and use the gas from the landfill for at least 15 years, Koch said.

Kercheval said he wondered if the county should consider issuing a request for proposals to compare offers from other companies, but Koch warned not many would be interested in a landfill as small as Washington County's. Koch said his company made proposals to Worcester and Frederick counties at the same time. Worcester, which accepted quickly, has its system up and running, while Frederick, which requested other proposals, was unsuccessful and has not even begun construction, Koch said.

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