Haywood County is making a few hundred dollars a month converting methane gas emanating from the old county landfill on Francis Farm into electricity, and reselling it over the power grid.

“It has been a long process, but we are out there putting power back on the grid,” said David Francis, the Haywood County tax administrator and solid waste committee member, at a meeting of the county Board of Commissioners this week.

An alternative energy project to convert methane landfill gas into electricity will cost Haywood County a little extra after a wrench was thrown into the plans.

The county will have to fork over an additional $45,000 and bring in a new contractor to finish the job after the original company hired to do the work was unable to complete it.

In 2010, Haywood County embarked on a three-phase $1.2 million project to use methane gas emanating from the old Francis Farm Landfill near Waynesville.

KSD Enterprise was contracted in September 2011 to build a generator and its associated parts to convert the gas into electricity, which would then be sold on the power grid. However, it became evident that the company had not factored an integral part of the project — a system to actually connect the generator with the utility lines — into its bid and did not plan to supply it. Without it, the heating system would not work.

KSD Enterprise was the sole bidder on the contract and agreed to complete the job for about $45,600. Haywood County leaders were pleasantly surprised by the bid, which was lower than anticipated. As a result of a low bid to start with, the project will still come in below budget even with the extra cost for the missing component.

“They (KSD) are really the only provider who could meet our timeline,” said Mark Cathey, senior project manager with McGill Associates, which is overseeing the venture.

Now, the county must shell out an additional $45,750 to another company to manufacture and install the interconnector. The Haywood County Board of Commissioners approved a contract for the missing link with the Wake Forest-based PowerSecure Inc. at its Monday meeting.

The commissioners reduced the scope of KSD Enterprises’ contract to exclude the interconnector.

The county contends the original contract with KSD Enterprises stipulated that they would provide the interconnector. It could press the company to make good on providing the component, but such action would mean costly delays.

“We do not have the time frame to do that,” Cathey said.

The county must complete the project by April 15 in order to receive a $1 million grant from the N.C. State Energy Office — thus the cost of a lawsuit would severely outweigh the benefits.

The county does not want to jeopardize a $1 million grant to haggle about $45,000, said David Francis, a Haywood County tax administrator and solid waste committee member.

With the $1 million in state funds, the county will need only to chip in the remaining $200,000.

When the county put the project out to bid, it received only one response. It was somewhat pigeonholed by the terms of the grant and the state utility commission’s restrictions on generator sizes. Otherwise, the county might have gotten a greater response, Cathey said.

 

Methane power

The county kicked off the more than yearlong alternative energy project with the drilling of 21 gas extraction wells. The wells direct and funnel the flow of the gas, which would otherwise drift horizontally in the ground before rising into the air.

Even without the considerable funding boost from the state, the county would have been required by the Environmental Protection Agency to somehow dissipate or otherwise use the gas. Methane, a byproduct of decomposing trash, is a volatile pollutant that contributes to global warming.

Once the project is complete, methane will power a generator to make electricity. The county plans to sell the power to Haywood Electric Membership Corporation, which serves 25,000 customers in the Haywood area.

The county still doesn’t know how much gas the now-closed landfill will actually produce and therefore, don’t know how much money they will make on the sale of the resulting electricity to HEMC.

“We probably won’t know for a year because the landfill is so wet,” Francis said. Once the land dries, it will release the methane more quickly, he said, adding that the county should be able to profit off of the gas for 15 years.

 

In other news

The Haywood County Board of Commissioners met for two hours Monday to discuss and approve a myriad of county business items. Among them are:

• The county commissioners approved a resolution allowing the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department to enter into mutual aid agreements with other town and county law enforcement agencies. The agreements will set guidelines for how and when these agencies will cross jurisdictional lines to fight crime.

• A public hearing regarding the revised Flood Hazard Development Ordinance, new flood maps and a flood insurance study at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23 prior to the commissioner meeting.

• The county will hire three full-time night custodians, a cost of about $94,000, to clean the new county building, formerly the old Walmart.

• The Haywood County Animal Welfare Association will receive $32,000 during the coming year from the N.C. State Spay/Neuter Program. The association is a nonprofit that provides low or no-cost spay and neuter services for low-income pet owners.

• Haywood County will get $459,635 from selling the property occupied by Smoky Mountain Mental Health Center to the agency. The mental health agency had leased two buildings on 1.79 acres of county-owned land for years but will now purchase it.

Four new landfill gas extraction wells are being drilled at the Green Energy Park in Jackson County, with the resulting energy helping to fuel craftspeople at work.

The Green Energy Park taps methane landfill gas to provide fuel for blacksmith forges and foundry, glassblowing studios, and greenhouses. Methane builds up as a byproduct of decomposing trash below ground.

The new wells to tap the landfill gas marks the first time that extensive excavation has been done at the landfill since the original dozen or so in 2005. Quality Drilling of St. Paris, Ohio, is boring the wells 70 feet deep.  

“It’s important because it will allow us to maximize our gas supply here at the GEP,” said Timm Muth, director of Green Energy Park. “We’ll be able to run all of our equipment at the same time and have more artists working at the GEP creating beautiful works of art which helps to attract tourists to Jackson County — a win-win for all of us.”

Jackson County is paying $33,000 for the new wells. Several of the original wells had seen decreasing gas flow, likely indicating that the high density polyethylene well casings had become clogged with sediment, and that new wells needed to be drilled to tap the continually generating gas coming from the landfill.

“If we didn’t drill these wells the landfill gas could migrate into the ground water,” Muth said.

The Jackson County Green Energy Park is an award winning, community-scale landfill gas project located in Dillsboro. www.jcgep.org.

Haywood County has landed a $1 million grant to turn the methane pouring off a no-longer-used landfill into energy.

The money comes from the N.C. State Energy Office as a part of their Energy Efficiency and Conservation Plan, which offers funding for local projects aimed at energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy conservation in transportation and greenhouse gas recovery projects like the one pitched by Haywood. The $20.9 million pool of money is part of the federal government’s stimulus package.

The county tried for funding in the grant’s first round last year, but was turned down. When the state announced it would open up a second round of applications, county officials resubmitted, this time with much better results.

According to David Francis, Haywood County tax administrator and solid waste committee member, getting such a large chunk of the change was a very lucky break for the county.

“We got lucky,” said Francis. “There was only $2.5 million out there in the second round.”

The funds will go to a project already on the county’s agenda – reclamation of the methane currently rising off the county’s closed Francis Farm landfill, located on the outskirts of Waynesville. Twenty-one methane vents were recently installed at the landfill to direct the escaping gas and point it skyward, instead of horizontally, where it was killing off plants.

Since methane takes the path of least resistance, steps had to be taken to direct the gas and protect the surrounding landscape, Francis said.

Methane is a byproduct of decomposing trash. The volatile pollutant contributes to global warming, so capturing it in some way is far better for the environment than merely releasing it into the air. Under this plan, it would be directed through pipelines connecting the 21 vents and hopefully pumped to the county’s nearby school bus garage, where it will either provide direct heat or power a generator to heat the facility.

Francis said the award is a real boon to the cleanup efforts at Francis Farm, which were being funded out of the county’s pocket. Past commissioners had not set aside funds to properly mothball the old landfill, which requires a measure of environmental remediation.

“This was part of the plan all along to do this,” said Francis. “How this grant helps us is it gives us the funds to do this.”

County Manager Marty Stamey echoed Francis’ sentiments, saying that the grant would provide a needed measure of relief to the county’s budget.

Now, the county will only pitch in $123,000 to complete the project, plus the savings gained through cutting heating costs at the bus garage.

“It’s one of the best grants we’ve ever gotten,” said Stamey.

The system is planned to be in place by Dec. 31.

Jackson County began capturing the methane from its closed-down landfill several years ago. There, energy from the methane is used to heat greenhouses and fuel blacksmith and glassblowing operations. Artists and growers rent studio and greenhouse space at the Green Energy Park, but the project has continued to run a deficit, causing Jackson's commissioners to question its viability.

Haywood County officials want to tap the pent up methane in the county’s landfill to help the environment and hopefully make a little extra cash.

The county has been eyeing the possibility of a methane recovery system at two of its landfills for several months, and is now preparing a bid to send out to companies that would set up and run such an operation.

Methane is a greenhouse gas generated by decaying food scraps, paper and other organic trash. Recovering methane could benefit the county financially in several ways.

“It’s the environmentally correct thing to do, and it’s a revenue source for the county,” said Commissioner Mark Swanger, who helped drum up support for the effort.

The county could flare off the gas, earning carbon credits in the process that it could sell on the market. Methane is most harmful to the environment when it seeps out of the landfill in raw form, but when burned off, it’s not as bad. That positive contribution to air quality would create the carbon credits, a commodity bought and sold on the market by polluters.

Or, the county could convert the methane gas to electricity to be sold over the power grid. Another option is the methane recovery system in place in neighboring Jackson County, where landfill methane is used to heat greenhouses and power craft operations like blacksmith forges and glass blowing furnaces.

Whatever the county chooses to do with the methane gas, it will make a profit — as much as $2 million over a ten-year period, according to Swanger.

And by partnering with a private company rather than go it alone, the county is maximizing profit by avoiding the high up-front costs associated with green technologies.

“There would be no up-front to the county at all, no risk, and no liability,” said Swanger. “It’s a win-win situation.”

County Solid Waste Director Stephen King said it’s important that whoever operates the methane recovery system not interfere with the landfill’s day-to-day operations.

“First and foremost, we are operating a landfill, and they should understand they can’t interfere with any of our operations to do this,” King said.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley emphasized that the county make an effort to recruit one of several local businesses to operate the methane recovery system.

“I would like for us not to overlook what we have in the county,” Ensley said.

— By Julia Merchant

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