County announces deal to turn trash gas into cash

February 8, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The methane gas created from decomposing garbage at the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill could net King County about $1 million per year.

The county announced a deal Feb. 1 to sell emissions credits to Puget Sound Energy. King County Council members authorized the Solid Waste Division to enter into a contract to sell the credits to PSE. The agreement is expected to generate about $500,000.

“We have harnessed a valuable commodity from something that was once a discarded byproduct,” County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “The contract with PSE is just one example of how we are delivering on the commitment we made in the 2010 Energy Plan to stimulate the development of ‘green’ energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save taxpayer and ratepayer dollars.”

The county Solid Waste Division also generates another $500,000 per year by selling the byproduct from rotting trash — methane — to a facility at the landfill. The unrefined methane is then collected, processed into pipeline-quality gas, sold to PSE and piped to natural gas-fired power generating plants. Few garbage utilities separate the sale of emissions credits and the sale of landfill gas.

Constantine outlined a “green” energy plan last year to capitalize on the landfill as a source for renewable energy. County Council members also set similar goals in a strategic plan adopted last year.

The landfill encompasses 920 acres in unincorporated King County between Issaquah and Maple Valley.

Harnessing trash for ‘green’ energy

“King County is taking advantage of the emerging renewable energy market to turn landfill gasses into energy to power people’s homes and revenue for the county,” Councilman Larry Phillips, Environment and Transportation Committee chairman and a sponsor of the ordinance, said in a statement. “As one of the first and largest projects of this kind in the nation, we are demonstrating that reducing greenhouse gas emissions through innovation pays off.”

Crews completed major construction on a landfill gas-to-energy facility in March 2009 and the plant began operating last year. The facility is the largest landfill gas-to-energy plant in the nation.

Solid Waste Division Director Kevin Kiernan said proceeds from the sale could help offset garbage disposal rates for county residents.

“Right now, we’re evaluating what our disposal rate should be and when we look at what we need to charge for solid waste disposal, we can reduce that by a little bit by the revenue received from other sources,” he said.

The county and a company called Bio Energy signed a contract in 2004, but delays plagued the project and the initial contractor dropped plans to build the facility. The county then turned to a Virginia company, Ingenco, to spearhead the project.

County Council members authorized the Ingenco agreement in 2007, and county leaders signed the contract in February 2008. Ingenco subsidiary Bio Energy Washington operates the plant.

The county, Bio Energy Washington and PSE joined forces in 2009 to harness the methane as a renewable energy source.

Noise complaints prompt changes

Operators faced another hurdle related to noise from the landfill gas-to-energy facility. Residents in neighborhoods near the landfill reported hissing and droning sounds emanating from the plant.

The parties heard from landfill neighbors about the noise at a November meeting in Issaquah. Operators outlined the steps Bio Energy Washington has enacted — such as blanketing equipment and pipes in sound-absorbing material — to reduce noise.

Kiernan said the complaints related to the facility continue, but Bio Energy Washington has added additional noise-reduction measures in recent months.

The contract authorized Feb. 1 is structured to allow the county to share in the profits PSE earns for selling the emissions credits related to the landfill gas. The initial term for the contract is for 11 years, and includes a provision to be extended for another nine years.

“We’re using the landfill gas to light up to 24,000 local homes,” PSE President Kimberly Harris said. “This waste-to-energy project is an example of how environmentally sustainable actions can benefit our customers and communities.”

The county estimates the landfill gas-to-energy project results in a reduction of emissions equivalent to removing 22,000 average passenger cars from the road each year.

“This is an agreement that benefits all parties,” council Vice Chairwoman Jane Hague, another sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement. “Not only does it allow King County to avoid producing more greenhouse gases, it also generates $1 million for the county annually. It’s a win-win situation.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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