By Timm Muth
My thanks to the editor for giving me the opportunity to respond to the recent allegations about safety at the Green Energy Park. The article in last week’s paper (“Issues flare up at Green Energy Park,” Feb. 27 SMN) contained a number of inaccuracies about our gas piping system in particular. I’ll try here to set the record straight.
The Driscoplex 4100 HDPE (high density polyethylene) piping that we use is the industry standard for use in landfill gas systems. According to Kim Witterman with Lee Supply Company (the East Coast distributor for such piping), “most major landfills on the East Coast use this pipe for gas distribution.” Our pipe was specified and installed by one of the most experienced landfill gas installers in the country, McGee Environmental, which has installed the same pipe at landfills throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida.
There are two types of pipe that we could have used for gas distribution: HDPE or stainless steel. Since HDPE pipe connections are thermo-welded together, they all but eliminate the chance of an accidental gas leak. Stainless steel piping, in our application, would have required dozens of fittings and connectors, each connection a potential leak site. The HDPE pipe is rated to withstand a pressure of 150 psi, and our piping arrangement was pressure-tested after installation to 100 psi to check for leaks, even though our gas system actually operates at only 1/2 psi.
Our piping and gas collection system is inspected and monitored monthly by McGee Environmental, while our gas and water sample wells are monitored quarterly by Altamont Environmental. Our blacksmith forges (where we currently burn the landfill gas) are equipped with two separate safety systems to shut off gas flow in case of an emergency. We’ve also installed protective ballard posts (large, concrete-filled pipes) around each pipe or condensate trap that rises above ground to prevent any accidental damage by vehicles or equipment.
I recognize that to laymen, with little or no industry experience, some aspects of our construction may seem odd. Pipe supports must be designed and installed in a way that allow for expansion and contraction of the pipe as the outside temperature changes. Gas pipe is black in color due to the addition of carbon black to its makeup, which protects against damage from the sun’s UV rays. And the thermo-welded joints on our pipes are actually stronger than the original pipe walls and twice as thick. Based on our research, and on the products used at other landfill gas projects across the country, we stand behind our statement that the piping system we’ve used is safe and in compliance with industry standards. Above all else, the safety of our tenants, employees, and members of the public is, and will always be, our chief concern.
To be honest, the insinuation that the gas pipe that runs beneath the access road to the staffed recycling center presents a danger to the public is, quite simply, ridiculous. This is no “time bomb,” as stated in last week’s article. The pipe was installed under a plan approved by the DOT, which meets all applicable DOT and DENR regulations. The pipe is buried roughly five feet underground and placed inside an engineered culvert pipe where it travels beneath the roadway. This situation is no different than the thousands of feet of natural gas pipe buried beneath the streets of Sylva and Dillsboro. No one worries about those pipes on a daily basis, nor should they worry about our pipes.
Landfill reduces toxin releases
I also need to address the comment concerning “the amount of toxic pollution it (the Green Energy Park) produces.” The GEP does not produce toxic pollution; in fact, we prevent 222 tons of methane gas from entering the atmosphere each year. This reduction in pollution provides roughly the same amount of environmental benefits as removing 916 cars off the road or planting 1,300 acres of forests each year. As I mentioned in a previous article, landfills are dirty places, no argument; but our sample testing shows no contamination to groundwater sources, and even samples taken from the body of the landfill fall well below DENR regulatory limits.
In case anyone is wondering, my career in the energy industry began in 1980, working in nuclear power plant construction. Since then, I’ve earned an engineering degree from Virginia Tech and have worked with nuclear plant operations, coal-fired plants, large and small-scale hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, fuel cells, and solar installations. I’ve spent countless hours as an engineer, project manager, and technical writer in paper mills, battery factories, textile mills, printed circuit board plants, tobacco and food-processing facilities. I have also worked for both the N.C State Energy Office and the N.C. Solar Center, overseeing a variety of landfill gas projects and other renewable energy initiatives around the state. And yes, for a few years I enjoyed being a professional, dirt-encrusted mountain biker, leading bike tours through these beautiful mountains of ours, and writing books and magazine articles on the subject.
The Green Energy Park is a county-funded effort, and as such the taxpayers have a vested interest in the outcome of the project. I reluctantly mentioned my background above so that the folks in my community will know a little more about my qualifications and experience level. I took this job because I was honored that County Manager Ken Westmoreland and the county commissioners would entrust me with such an exciting and important project as the Jackson County Green Energy Park. I felt that this project offered me a chance to make something really happen in Jackson County, and to give something valuable and enduring back to my newly-adopted home. I believe in this project because it’s the right thing to do for our community, for our children, and for our environment: to turn trash into treasure, and change a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
So please stay tuned, as we’ve got some exciting things in store. We’ll build a community project that everyone in Jackson County can be proud of, where the public can enjoy watching and learning from artists as they practice their crafts. We’ll help teach kids why a clean environment is so important to all of us. We’ll continue to build bridges between the students and faculty at WCU, and our local community. And we’ll give artists and other entrepreneurs the opportunity to work hard and make their own dreams a reality. Please come and visit us, see what we’re doing, ask all the questions you want, and give us your suggestions. Because this project belongs to you, the people of Jackson County, and we want all of you to come be a part of it.