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Landfill project would turn garbage gas to fuel

Courtesy of Homer Electric Association

As the adage goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. At the Central Peninsula Landfill in Soldotna, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Homer Electric Association are hoping to turn trash into treasure by capturing harmful methane gas and turning it into fuel.

The borough and HEA have been talking about implementing the Soldotna Landfill Gas Project for years. Landfills across the U.S. are putting together similar programs, to cut costs and comply with environmental regulations.

Last month, HEA took its largest step to date on the project when it submitted a request for grant funding for the project’s design from the Alaska Energy Authority.

David Thomas is director of strategic services for HEA. He said the project would save the borough money.

“There’s not a regulatory requirement yet to do this but there are economic savings to be achieved by utilizing an unused resource," he said.

At the center of the plan is methane, a greenhouse gas that is much more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Landfills like the Central Peninsula Landfill are some of the biggest contributors of human-related methane emissions in the U.S.

As it stands, the methane at the Soldotna landfill is lost in the air.

HEA’s project would capture that methane, burn it and generate additional electricity for HEA’s grid – about 1.6 megawatts of electricity, or 3 percent of the total load.

The project would also power the landfill’s leachate evaporator.

Leachate is the liquid that results when snow or rain seeps through garbage. If left alone, it can seep into the ground.

For years, the borough’s been dealing with its leachate by turning it into water vapor, using an evaporator that runs on natural gas.

The methane plant would create heat that could be used to power that evaporator. That way, Thomas said, the borough would be generating its own gas rather than buying it from ENSTAR. 

“There’s potentially over $1 million a year in savings to go this route than to continue on the current path," he said.

Plus, the project would capture the harmful methane that the landfill garbage is now leaking. Thomas said while Central Peninsula Landfill isn’t mandated to deal with its methane emissions yet, it is a requirement for larger facilities.

Anchorage is already capturing its landfill methane, delivering landfill gas to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where it’s converted to electricity and used to partly power the base.

The grant application HEA submitted Jan. 18 would fund a detailed design of a potential plant. While HEA’s done preliminary design planning to sketch out the economics of the project, it hasn’t come up with a full schematic that outlines aspects like pipe sizes and foundation details. Thomas said it needs that first before it can issue a request for proposals and hand over a plan to a contractor.

The project in total is estimated to cost over $12 million.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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