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The natural gas can be used to generate power and even fuel vehicles such as rail locomotives.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Instead of flaring off the gas that its garbage-eating bacteria emit, the Roanoke Valley Resource Authority is thinking of selling it.
A Richmond-based energy firm wants to buy the gas and use it to generate electricity, a deal that could start off yielding an additional $120,000 a year to the regional landfill operator. The authority’s revenue now runs at about $8 million a year.
The company, Ingenco Distributed Energy, operates at 15 landfills and is currently working on projects at the New River Resource Authority’s Dublin landfill and at Bristol’s municipal landfill.
It is eager to build a Western Virginia customer base and is already seeing strong interest from colleges and businesses in the area, vice president Alan Petersen said Tuesday.
Ingenco is proposing a 4-megawatt plant at the Smith Gap landfill, enough electricity to power more than 1,300 homes.
It would spin its electric generators with dual-fueled compression-ignition engines — basically diesel motors that can run on natural gas as well — which Petersen said are better able to deal with the variable quality of landfill gas than the turbines that drive most other power plants.
The generators and engines would fit inside a soundproofed building no more than 75-by-100 feet.
Petersen said noise from the plant should be no louder than ordinary speech at a distance of about 350 yards, based on the company’s experience with a similar plant in Henrico County. The nearest house to the part of the Smith Gap landfill that Ingenco would like to use is about 1,200 yards away.
He said the company is also sounding out Norfolk Southern about using gas from the landfill to fuel locomotives, particularly the engines that make the nightly 33-mile run between the authority’s Tinker Creek Transfer Station and the landfill. That’s a setup like no other in the country, Petersen said, and having a big user next to a source of fuel is something that intrigues both Ingenco and the railroad. If it works, it could generate even more revenue for the authority.
Ingenco hopes to sell power from a landfill plant to colleges and businesses in the area, Petersen said. Colleges are particularly interested because of their efforts to reduce their carbon footprints, using a technology that isn’t dependent on sunshine or wind, which solar panels and wind turbines are .
“Those bacteria work all the time, they don’t care if it is sunny or the wind is blowing,” Petersen said.
Resource authority chief executive officer Daniel Miles said he wanted to try to negotiate an agreement with Ingenco, because it appears that two other options for using the gas would take much longer to pay dividends.
One option was for the authority to set up a compressed natural gas plant to supply local governments’ and businesses’ trucks and cars with fuel. The other was to build a pipeline to supply the Western Virginia Water Authority and the regional jail with gas they could use to generate electricity.
But Miles said it might take years to develop a big enough market for the compressed gas, while the heavy capital cost of the pipeline and electric generating equipment meant it would be many years before any of the agencies could recover the cost of that project.
Authority staff selected Ingenco as the best initial offer from seven responses to a recent request for proposals, Miles said.
Environmental regulators set tough standards to reduce emissions of gas — mostly methane — from landfills. Currently, the authority simply burns the gas.
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