Study to probe using landfill gas as power source

Can methane gas seeping from the Mesa County Landfill be used to power the landfill and two new county buildings going up next door?

That has been Bob Edmiston’s question for several years. Edmiston, director of the Mesa County Landfill, did not get an answer to it last week, but he did get the next best thing. The

Mesa County Commission approved spending up to $1 million to drill a hole into the landfill and construct a methane gas collection and control system.

Gas coming out of the landfill will be burned and tested for its ability to spin microturbines and produce electricity.

“We will actually put the system in place this summer and hopefully have it online this fall,” Edmiston said. “We’ll study that gas while we are burning it off, and we will see if we can use it once we know the numbers.”

If the gas can be burned efficiently and provide enough power to spin the turbines, the county still would need to spend an extra $400,000 to build a power hub and a link to the yet-to-be-built public works and animal services buildings, Edmiston said. The county could save up to $100,000 annually by using methane instead of drawing power from the grid, he said.

For the experimental project, the county received six bids ranging from $869,345 to $1.8 million. The county accepted the lowest bid, $869,345, from American Environmental Group.

The winning contract will include remote monitoring equipment and a larger pad for future turbines.

The county would be forced to do something with the escaping methane by 2014 because of more stringent federal environmental standards, Edmiston said. By acting now, rather than waiting until the federal government mandated a change, the county can earn some cash by selling “greenhouse gas credits,” he said.

Selling credits on the open market could fetch Mesa County $230,000 a year, Edmiston said.

The bottom line on using methane gas from the landfill for power is cost. Edmiston said the study approved by the commission Monday would allow him to better figure the costs and benefits of using turbines for power or simply choosing to burn off escaping emissions.

“The numbers are not as encouraging as one would like,” Edmiston said of the initial numbers he has compiled. “The operating cost of this system is going to be significant.”

The landfill is anticipated to close in the early 2030s, Edmiston said. The greatest costs of closing the landfill are the methane gas and government regulations, he said. Even after the landfill is closed, it will need to be monitored for an estimated cost of $150,000 a year, Edmiston said.

Knowing what’s what with the methane gas, which is created by the natural breakdown of biosolids at the landfill, will give Edmiston an idea of how to budget and plan for that eventuality, he said.


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