Landfill gas release shortfall leads to energy plant shutdown

By Brian Sweeney
 The Delaware County Electric Cooperative (DCEC) Inc. has shut down its Waste-to-Energy Project because of continued high operation costs.

Officials at the DCEC said this week that the Waste-to-Energy Project has been consistently hindered by a lack of gas from the Delaware County Landfill in Walton, resulting in lower-than-expected power generation.

DCEC officials estimate that closing down the project will result in a loss of approximately $1.91 million to the cooperative, based on the initial cost of construction.
The organization anticipates recouping about $250,000 through liquidation of some of the plant’s assets, according to CEO/General Manager Mark Schneider. The engine/generator is expected to be the key component in the sale.

Equipment sales
If the asset sale realizes $250,000, the net loss to the cooperative would be reduced to $1.66 million, which would be spread out over approximately 10 years.

DCEC is a non-profit rural electric cooperative serving more than 5,200 members in Delaware, Schoharie, Otsego and Chenango counties.

Mr. Schneider said the plant began generating power for the cooperative in December 2008. While the technology has worked well, the problems stem from lower-than-expected gas production from the landfill.

Production shortfall
“We thought that we could generate about 1,000 kilowatts of continuous power,” Mr. Schneider said.

With the lack of gas being drawn from the landfill, the plant’s electricity production has been below 500 kilowatts, he pointed out.

The DCEC chief said that his board began to give serious consideration to the project’s future late last year.

The smaller amount of gas being generated at the county landfill was not an issue that could be easily overcome.

“Landfills are sort of like complex living organisms,” he explained. “Despite applying the best engineering we could, the living organisms behaved differently.
He pointed out that the county’s composting facility drastically reduces the refuse volume and the amount of organic matter in the landfill, but those factors had been considered during planning of the Waste-to-Energy Project.

“The landfill is comprised of many almost cellular sized organisms that use the waste as a food and as a byproduct they produce the methane. The ecosystem of the landfill is quite complex. The engineers made different projections about how this would work,” Mr. Schneider noted.
He said the DCEC worked for several years in an effort to optimize gas production at the landfill, but could not obtain the anticipated results. Mr. Schneider said the gas for the plant is “vacuumed” from the landfill via a piping system.

“You try to pull as much out without pulling anything into the landfill. Oxygen can be drawn in and start a fire. That has happened elsewhere,” he pointed out. 
He noted that oxygen amounts were continuously monitored to keep the readings below the levels required by Delaware County Solid Waste Management.

With no prospects for improved energy output at the facility, the DCEC decided to take the plant offline.

“If run at very low capacity, the costs of operation exceeds the revenues,” was how Mr. Schneider summed up the situation.

He said the cooperative intends to sell the engine/generator in January through a specialty auction service.

What becomes of the gas produced at the landfill is now up to the Delaware County Department of Public Works.

Sue McIntyre, the county’s director of solid waste, said her department is considering several uses for the facility.

“We believe that there’s still a potential value for the landfill gas,” said Ms. McIntyre.
She indicated that the county is looking at several options for the plant. These include: installing a smaller generator and selling back the power the electric grid; powering a new recycling facility that’s under consideration at the landfill; and utilizing the gas to power county-owned vehicles.
“We have to evaluate our needs,” Ms. McIntyre noted. “We will also evaluate the costs of these options.”

Ms. McIntyre said the gas at the landfill is currently being “flared off,” resulted in an environmental benefit as the methane gas is converted into carbon dioxide.