Arundel to study alternative energy

September 07, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

Anne Arundel County will research the viability of converting horse manure, wood waste and gas emissions from landfills into electricity and fuel for cars - the first effort of its kind in Maryland, the state's top agricultural official said yesterday.

The $85,000 study of renewable energy alternatives has drawn the interest of state and federal leaders who are wrestling with the rising costs of electricity and limited supply of oil. County, state and federal agencies are funding the study.

Local officials see the additional benefits of reducing nutrient flow into the Chesapeake Bay, conserving landfill space and attracting energy-related businesses.

Northern Shore Energy Technologies Inc. of Annapolis will spend the next 12 to 18 months at the former Sudley Landfill in the southern end of the county to determine the feasibility of building a plant there for the energy conversion of biomass, such as animal waste and plants. The pact signed with the county followed a year of talks.

At a news conference yesterday in Annapolis, County Executive Janet S. Owens said she hopes the study will "provide the key to the future and unlock stores of energy."

Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley said he supported Anne Arundel's decision to explore fuel alternatives.

"Anything we can do to turn our waste into renewable energy should be applauded," he said. "We must reduce our dependency on foreign oil."

As the amount of active farmland is shrinking, county officials said, they have much more manure than needed to fertilize crops. In addition, the equestrian industry is growing quickly as a more affluent population settles in.

Jeffrey F. Opel, manager of the Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District, said the county's 700 horses each produce 50 pounds of manure a day - or 1.5 million cubic feet a year.

The conservation district assists and advocates for farmers. Opel said the energy from that waste could be harnessed to produce 1 million gallons of liquid fuel (methane or ethanol) or 1 megawatt of electricity, enough to power 200 homes for a year.

That doesn't include the 11 tons in "green waste" - trees and other plants and landscaping - the county takes in each day.

"The potential for economic gain - it just made sense for us," Opel said.

The study will also focus on the energy potential of harnessing methane gas, a natural byproduct of landfills.

Richard H. Mount, president of Northern Shore Energy Technologies, said that Anne Arundel County has leaped onto the "cutting edge" of what is referred to as biomass technology.

In St. Paul, Minn., a power plant converts 280,000 tons of wood trimmings into 25 megawatts of power to heat and cool much of the city's downtown district.

In Northumberland, Pa., wood waste provides 18 megawatts of power a year, said Edward T. Cesa, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is providing a $40,000 grant for the Anne Arundel project.

The 166-acre Sudley Landfill closed in 1993, but the site remains in use as a convenience center to handle recycling and yard waste.

County officials said that if the study confirms their hopes that biomass technology is viable, Sudley would be ideally located for most of the county's horse owners.

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