KATHLEEN -- Down deep in the Houston County landfill, the expired eggs someone tossed in the garbage years ago are still there and serving a purpose.
Those eggs, and just about everything else in the landfill, are slowly decomposing and releasing methane gas. Throughout the hills of garbage, hidden now by a layer of dirt and grass, is a system of pipes that collects the methane and delivers it to a building on the site.
“The gas coming out the landfill is a living, breathing organism that fluctuates with conditions,” said Drew Erickson, who supervises the plant that converts the methane to electricity.
A year into operation, the system is working at full capacity and producing 3.2 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power about 1,000 homes.
The system was operating at about 70 percent capacity until October, when another phase of the landfill came online, pumping more methane into the system and allowing it to operate at 100 percent capacity.
A system of wells throughout the landfill collects the methane and delivers it to two electric generators in a building at the site. Flint Energies, which won a bidding process for the electricity, invested about $7 million in the facility. Flint contracts with PowerSecure to operate the plant.
“It has been a very good project,” said Ty Diamond, Flint’s chief operating officer. “The county and community have really accepted the concept and embraced the concept.”
The plant is popular with tour groups, including school field trips, leadership groups and representatives of other counties.
“There have been so many tourists through there,” Diamond said. “It has been the premiere site as far as the way to do the job.”
With the increased output, Flint will pay Houston County $500,000 annually for the methane that once burned off into the air, said Flint spokesman Jimmy Autry. Initial estimates when the plant opened put that amount at $250,000 to $400,000.
As of now, the electricity costs Flint a little more than standard electricity, but Autry said it will eventually be cheaper because standard electricity costs will rise while the landfill electricity costs will remain stable.
The operation opened Jan. 5, 2011, and has operated virtually around the clock. The only downtime has been for routine maintenance. PowerSecure has at least one person there during regular working hours, and the plant also can be monitored remotely when no one is there.
Over a period of years, the methane production of each phase currently feeding the landfill will eventually fade out, but as that happens new phases will come online, so the plant should be able to continuously operate for decades to come.
While the power produced by the plant goes into the Flint grid for general distribution across its 16-county area, Flint “sells” the landfill power to specific customers as alternative energy. One of those is the Museum of Aviation, which buys enough to power the Eagle Building, but plans are for the museum to buy enough to power all of its buildings, Autry said.
That will help Robins Air Force Base meet its goals for using alternative energy, Autry said.