Gas Cash

Loudon landfill to provide green energy

Facility will collect methane gas, generate revenue

Ron Bridgeman,
Loudon County wanted a "greener facility" for its landfill. Santek Environmental, the county's landfill manager, was willing to help - if revenue also could be generated.

After nearly two years of discussion, Loudon County's Solid Waste Disposal Commission and Santek have agreed to build a landfill gas collection system at the Matlock Bend landfill. The facility will generate electricity that Santek plans to sell to TVA.

Design work on the project is just beginning, and it could take 18 months before construction starts, said Santek spokeswoman Cheryl Dunson.

"The catalyst (to build the facility) was the solid waste commission's request to really promote a green facility," Dunson said.

The proposal would build one unit at Matlock Bend that is expected to produce about 1.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power up to 1,500 houses.

By comparison, Waste Management Inc.'s Chestnut Ridge landfill in Anderson County, which is larger than Loudon County's facility, generates about 3.2 megawatts of power. Waste Management plans to install another engine at Chestnut Ridge in the next year to increase its electric output to 4.8 megawatts.

Estimated cost of the Matlock Bend project is $1.2 million, according to Santek.

The "champion" for the idea has been Bill Waldrop, a Tellico Village resident and vice chair of the commission, said Steve Field, who chairs the commission.

Field said methane, generated when trash decays into the landfill soil, now is being vented into the air. Included in the plans for the Matlock Bend facility will be wells and a pipe collection system to carry the methane to the methane-burning engine.

"Although our landfill is below the threshold requiring us to control methane gas emissions, limiting this air pollutant is one of our primary objectives for capturing methane," Waldrop said in a statement. "Converting (gas) to energy will be a bonus."

Methane gas is approximately 22 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and also contributes to the creation of smog.

Waldrop called the landfill gas project a "win-win-win deal" for everyone.

"We're reducing an air pollutant, generating green energy, and producing additional revenue to promote better solid waste programs for our county," Waldrop said.

As part of the contract with Loudon County, a portion of the revenue generated will go to the commission. Santek will design, permit, build and manage the facility.

Dunson said the company has had "some initial discussions with (TVA) but nothing definitive" about selling the power to the federal utility.

Santek also is planning similar facilities at four other landfills it operates - including three more that would sell power to TVA. Those facilities are at landfills in Bradley and Rhea counties in Tennessee and Murray and Gordon counties in Georgia. Santek operates 14 landfills in eight states, with one landfill gas system in Elizabethtown, Ky.

According to Dunson, work on the Loudon County landfill gas project began when the county and the company signed a contract March 8.

Major questions remain to be answered, Dunson pointed out.

One impetus for the project, according to Field, is "the potential for the federal government to come up with some real innovative national energy strategies." However, that discussion has nearly died with changes in Congress after the November election.

"A lot of the timing is going to depend on how profitable it's going to be," Dunson said.

Matlock Bend landfill now is approved for 40 acres, but Santek is seeking a modification of the permit to expand to 67 acres. The landfill now disposes of 500 to 700 tons of trash per day, according to Dunson.

"We're taking the first steps on a journey of miles," Dunson said.