City to sell methane to Coast Guard

Landfill gas to heat shipyard in $3 million, 15-year deal

November 01, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN REPORTER

It's praised as a win-win deal for everyone: The U.S. Coast Guard gets a cheap supply of energy, cash-hungry Baltimore receives a total of $3 million, and tons of landfill gas laden with methane are prevented from leaking into the atmosphere.

Under an agreement scheduled to be announced today, the Coast Guard will pay the city $200,000 annually for 15 years for the methane, which will come from the city's Quarantine Road Landfill, where it accumulates naturally as solid waste decays.

The gas will be piped about a mile to the Coast Guard shipyard in Curtis Bay, where a methane-powered co-generation plant will generate electricity and produce enough steam to heat the shipyard during the winter.

Construction of the plant is expected to begin next summer and to be completed by the spring of 2008. The city will begin receiving payments for the gas after the pipeline is completed and the plant begins to operate.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas, but it is more cost-effective when derived from landfill gas. Coast Guard officials say the new system will eventually result in saving millions of dollars in utility costs. But those savings will not appear for 15 years after the Coast Guard pays for the plant and pipeline.

Cmdr. John Slaughter, facilities engineer for the shipyard, said the use of methane to generate electricity and thermal energy will enable the Coast Guard to satisfy a federal mandate requiring agencies to become more energy-efficient.

"We will be pumping 30,000 pounds of steam per hour," Slaughter said.

The deal is part of a broader national push by businesses and governments to generate electricity or steam from decomposing garbage buried in landfills. The shift allows for federal tax breaks and gives an alternative to rising natural gas prices.

Last week, the city signed a contract with a Milwaukee-based company to use methane produced by the Back River sewage treatment plant to generate electricity. Officials expect the deal to save the city $1.4 million a year in energy costs while improving air quality.

"Public works has been on a course to reduce energy and protect the environment through a number of projects," said George L. Winfield, the city's public works director. "The bottom line is, this is something else the city is doing to protect the environment."

Environmentalists point out that methane is a potent greenhouse gas and is 23 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the gas most closely associated with global warming.

Government officials in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties have embarked on similar plans to sell landfill gas.

The Quarantine Road landfill opened in 1985, holds about 10 million tons of waste and averages about 35,000 tons of rubbish every month. It is one of five public solid waste disposal sites in the city, resting on 126 acres.

Landfills are also the largest source of methane emissions created by man in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

City officials expect an overflow of gas from the Quarantine Road landfill and plan to sell off gas rights beyond the needs of the shipyard.

"I think that is a very viable option," Winfield said. "We don't have definitive information on how much methane gas will be generated. But we continue to add materials to landfills. We just know there are going to be an opportunities for other non-governmental entities."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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