Houston County is about to become one of the first in the state to use garbage from its public landfill to make electricity, thanks to a deal signed in December between the county and Flint Energies.
The methane gas, which is produced by the natural decomposition of garbage underground, is now being “flared,” or burned off, but will now become a source of income.
Flint, an electric co-op whose members are most concentrated in Houston County, will buy the gas and use it to make electricity through an adjacent generating plant on county land.
Flint is contracting with North Carolina-based PowerSecure International as well as the Georgia Transmission Corp. for different aspects of building and operating the plant and substation, said Jimmy Autry, Flint’s senior vice president of community relations. He said the generators have been ordered, and the company expects to begin power production there this year.
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Landfill methane is considered a “green” power source because it reuses a waste product and reduces air pollution by replacing electricity generated by burning fossil fuels.
Flint expects its new substation to produce 22.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough to power the equivalent of about 1,400 homes, Autry said.
But Autry said Flint is pursuing the project mostly out of a desire to serve Robins Air Force Base, which is mandated to dramatically increase its usage of renewable energy. By 2012, at least 5 percent of its energy must come from renewable sources. That goal spikes to 25 percent by 2025.
“The great interest we have is the base being able to meet its renewable mandate for BRAC (the base realignment and closure evaluation),” Autry said. “We’ve got to do our part to make sure the base is secure.”
Currently, Georgia Power is supplying the base’s renewable needs, and Autry said Flint has no desire to compete directly with the state’s largest electricity provider. But as the base’s demand for renewables increases, Flint would like to add to its options, he said.
Murray Griffin, a consulting engineer for Houston County, said about six private landfills in Georgia use their landfill gas to make electricity. But only one other public landfill does, in DeKalb County.
More common are landfills that sell the gas direct to industry for use in heating their buildings or processes. Macon sells its gas to a local brick company, and Augusta, LaGrange and others have similar arrangements with businesses in their areas, said Griffin, who is president and CEO of Atlantic Coast Consulting.
Tommy Stalnaker, Houston County operations director, said the county sought to market the gas for both the revenue and environmental benefits. The county put out a request for proposals more than a year ago in anticipation of having enough methane to be used. Three local businesses as well as Flint responded.
The other businesses were interested in using the gas directly, but installing a piping system would have taken longer and delayed the county’s ability to receive income from the gas.
Flint offered the best price, too, he said: $2 per million British thermal units.
“It was a tough decision for the county,” Stalnaker said.
State environmental regulations require that a gas collection system be installed as sections of a landfill are filled and closed, so the Flint contract will not require the county to spend any money beyond what was required anyway. The methane income will compensate the county for some of those costs, though, Stalnaker said.
He said the gas revenue will go to the county’s landfill enterprise fund, which supports the landfill at no cost to taxpayers.
Stalnaker said the county intends the landfill to have multiple sources of income: tipping fees, timber revenue from the 2,600 acres surrounding it and now methane.
“We have some other ventures we’re considering going into that will generate money too,” he said, declining to elaborate beyond saying that the land itself could generate revenue in other ways.
“There’s other landfills in the U.S. that are just as much on the cutting edge as we are — but not many,” Stalnaker said.
Currently, the Houston landfill is permitted for 400 acres, which is expected to last for 20 to 25 years. It has further land to expand beyond that when the time comes.
As more sections of the landfill close, it may generate more methane. The county’s contract with Flint gives the company the first right of refusal, said Stalnaker.
Flint is already involved in one renewable energy project through Green Power EMC, buying a small portion of the electricity made from methane generated at the Veolia landfill in Taylor County.
That allocation is almost all going to the Eagle building at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Autry said. He added that Flint hopes the addition of the electricity generated at the Houston County landfill will enable Flint to supply the full museum complex with green power this year.
The Telegraph archives were used in this report.
To contact reporter S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.