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Power Garbage

by John Darling
Mail Tribune, September 21, 2006

The county's major landfill is going green, using drawn methane to produce energy

Don't call it a dump. Not anymore.

The county's big landfill, at Dry Creek, is going green, transforming itself into an alternative energy farm that will burn waste methane to produce a steady 3.2 megawatts of power for the next century. Construction has just started on the powerhouse, which will go online next spring with two large, 20-cylinder Caterpillar engines, driven by combusting methane that comes from decomposing garbage collected in Jackson and Josephine counties. A third engine may be added later.

It's the first green landfill in Southern Oregon. Burning 1,040 cubic feet of methane per minute, its output would continually power about 3,000 homes, said Dry Creek General Manager Lee Fortier, a civil engineer who designed the landfill. Similar green energy farms are in Eugene and Corvallis.

Energy will be sold to Pacific Power and fed into the grid. Rogue Disposal and Recycling, which owns the landfill, will get credit in the form of Green Tags -- each equivalent to 1,000 kilowatt hours of fossil fuel energy -- which it sells to the Bonneville Environmental Foundation for marketing to utility customers. The money is used to help develop alternative energy sources and thus reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

An example of Green Tag use is the Mount Ashland ski area, which just bought enough Green Tags to equal its annual fossil fuel energy bill of $9,000 and now has bragging rights that it's a green operation.

The project was helped by tax credits from the 2005 federal Energy Bill, but the bulk of the $5.5 million to $6 million project is funded with loans, which will be paid off over the next 15 years, said Rogue Disposal Chief Executive Officer Stephen Gambee. His grandfather started the business in 1938.

"It's pretty exciting for us, for the solid waste field, to make a meaningful impact on energy independence in Southern Oregon through the production of green power," said Gambee.

Such energy is generated at a higher cost than at Pacific Power's gas-fired plants and with a "skinny margin" of profit, he said, but utilities in Oregon are required by state law to buy it.

The green system at Dry Creek has been contemplated for years, but it requires a certain volume of garbage to function -- and the Rogue Valley has just recently crossed that threshold, said Fortier.

Using perforated pipes stuck deep in the landfill, methane from Dry Creek Landfill is presently drawn out of the waste by air pumps, then "flared off" (burned). This system will be retained for backup, said Fortier.

"With this new technology, we're using energy that was just being wasted (before)," said Fortier. "It is, by far, one of the most positive environmental landfill projects, in its ability to capture that resource and turn it into green energy. And in buying Green Tags, you (the consumer) get the knowledge and satisfaction that you're funding a renewable resource and not damming rivers."

Every Green Tag prevents the release of 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and helps fund projects such as a 400-megawatt wind farm in southern Washington, solar projects near Klamath Falls and tidal and wave energy research on the Central Oregon coast, said Bonneville Environmental Foundation President and CEO Angus Duncan.

Even after the 230-acre Dry Creek landfill is "full" in 75 to 100 years, it will continue to generate methane for another quarter century, Fortier said. The landfill, which takes in 900 tons of municipal garbage a day, is located south of Agate Lake and on the far side of Roxy Ann Peak.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland.
Power Garbage
Mail Tribune, September 21, 2006

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