Garbage Today, Co-op Power Tomorrow
An Indiana electric cooperative is winning the quest for alternative energy through a strategic partnership with one of the state’s leading landfill operators. That relationship has also provided business opportunities for one of the Midwest’s leading manufacturers.
Wabash Valley Power Association is now generating 44 megawatts of energy at eight Waste Management of Indiana sites, and could expand its alternative energy program beyond the Hoosier State.
“We entered the landfill gas plant ownership world in 2002 when we built our first facility,” said Tom Fresher, the Indianapolis-based G&T’s senior operations engineer. “Since then we purchased four existing facilities from Waste Management and have built another nine on our own.”
The 14th plant hummed into production in early July, joining three others at the nearly 1,000-acre Twin Bridges Landfill in Danville, west of Indianapolis. A pair of 20-cylinder engines in the newest unit is generating enough energy to power 3,500 homes.
While only 240 acres of the site are permitted for solid waste disposal, a constant supply of fuel is produced from decaying organic material to run the engines that drive the generators.
“The garbage you throw away every day gets buried in a landfill, and as it decomposes, it creates methane gas,” said Fresher. “That methane is collected from wells and sent through piping to our plants, where it’s compressed and then burned in Caterpillar engines.”
While all of the G&T’s landfill gas plants are in Indiana, there is interest in considering similar opportunities in Missouri, Illinois and Ohio, where it also has member co-ops, Fresher said.
Wabash Valley Power has purchased 54 engines from a heavy equipment dealer in Indiana in the past 10 years. Most of the nearly $52 million invested in its landfill gas-to-energy program has been used to buy American-made equipment or construct the cinderblock buildings housing the equipment.
“Several years ago, our board of directors took the position that we would pursue alternative energy sources whenever they made strong economic sense,” explained Sabrina Kapp, the G&T’s manager of communications. “Today, our fuel mix is far more diverse, which means we’ve lessened our reliance on coal while increasing our use of biomass and wind.”
The venture has also worked out for Waste Management. Methane gas that might otherwise be flared off is a marketable commodity, and its use as a fuel has enhanced the company’s efforts to restore portions of several sites for wildlife and recreational use.
“When you burn the methane, you reduce the odor,” said Kapp. “Not only are we gaining a reliable, affordable source of alternative energy, but the landfills’ neighbors are happier as well.”
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