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From Garbage to green energy

Article Published: Dec. 3, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
From Garbage to green energy

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners approved a renewable-energy project at the former county landfill that could generate up to a half million dollars worth of electricity.

Lisa Doty, county recycling coordinator, submitted bids received for the county's gas-to-electricity project at the former landfill.

Doty said the project will provide electricity to county sanitation facilities that would save $36,000 a year and have enough methane gas for the next 10 years, generating about $85,000 worth of electricity to be fed back into the local grid.

Doty said the could also provide some heat for county maintenance buildings on the site
The proposed $165,000 spent on generators, a building and engineering would have a payback period of about two years and generate up to $500,000 over the expected life of the project.
A pipe system is already in place to capture methane, which is a by-product of decomposing organic matter buried in the landfill.

The landfill was capped and closed in the mid-1990s due to off-site contamination of water supplies.

Doty said there are numerous other landfills in the state that could replicate the project.
County commission chairman Jim Deal said one of the best benefits of the project was the collaborative nature, drawing on Appalachian State University technology research, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation and local organizations.

Bids include $29,850 to Carlson Environmental Consultants for a gas pipeline, $1,675 to Carlson for a pressure valve, $83,940 to KSD Enterprises for generators and setup, $18,6000 for a metal building and concrete pad from US Buildings and $31,403 for switchgear design and installation from Tucker Engineering. The commissioners approved spending up to $200,000 from the sanitation department fund for the project.

Doty said a grant had been submitted that could pay up to 50 percent of the project's cost.

Another grant could fund an energy plan and energy audit for the four largest county buildings.
Eight years ago, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation & Development received a $105,000 grant from the N.C. Energy Office to install pipes in the landfill. At that time, the goal was to collect, vent and burn off the methane.

Methane can explode if allowed to build up, and it can also migrate off the site and cause safety concerns. The project led to the installation of 4,000 feet of pipe to collect the gas. Four years ago, the commissioners approved a working group to study ways to use the methane, including a possible "energy park" that would serve as an educational center.

The commissioners approved pool improvements of around $29,000, including a drain replacement and a switch to a saline-based water system. Recreation director Stephen Poulos said the pool would probably be closed a week while the work was underway. The saline and carbon-dioxide system would improve water quality and save about $5,000 a year, he said.

The commissioners approved a one-year lease for office space for the N.C. Department of Corrections. County manager Rocky Nelson said the leases typically generated between $6,000 and $8,000 a year but funding had been cut by the state. The county amended the proposed three-year agreement in the hope that the state would restore funding in future years.

The board appointed Janet Miller to the Watauga County Board of Adjustment. Keith Tester, Jan Winkler and Margaret Hayden were appointed to the Watauga Medical Center Board of Trustees. Billy Martin was appointed to the Northwest Regional Housing Authority.

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