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Haywood gets rolling on methane project

Haywood County commissioners have taken the first step in constructing a more than $1 million methane collection system at two landfills.

After two 4-1 votes, the board this week approved doling out $92,200 to McGill Associates to handle the design and permitting of the system at both the main White Oak landfill and old Francis Farm landfill. Construction is estimated at $600,000 at White Oak and $416,000 at Francis Farm.

The county hopes to score carbon credits for the project by neutralizing the methane that emanates from decomposing trash and is otherwise a volatile greenhouse gas. The carbon credits are a commodity that can be sold to industries seeking to offset their own emissions.

Besides carbon credits, the methane collection has the potential to generate a small amount of electricity. A school bus garage near Francis Farm landfill might easily hook up to this electricity if a generator is put in.

County Manager David Cotton estimates it would take five to seven years to pay off the methane collection system. After that, it would be all profit, he said.

“This is one of the few opportunities that we have to actually have the trash work for us,” said Cotton.

However, Commissioner Kevin Ensley, who was the sole commissioner to vote against the engineering proposal, was not convinced.

“I just don’t know enough about it,” said Ensley. “I got some questions in my mind. I don’t think it’s very good.”

Commissioner Bill Upton disagreed, saying that it was a small risk worth taking, while Commissioner Mark Swanger said installing the methane collection system would be unusually beneficial.

“In this instance, we’re being paid to do the right thing,” Swanger said.

The county hopes to stay ahead of federal legislation that could hurt the county’s chances of earning carbon credits for the project. If the Senate passes the American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009, the methane system would be mandated and no longer considered voluntary, making it harder to sell carbon credits on the market. Ensley said the uncertainty makes the project “iffy.”

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