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Wednesday, 04 February 2009 16:22

Haywood gets serious about tapping landfill methane

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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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