For the first time in its 72-year history, the largest electric cooperative in Idaho is planning to generate its own renewable energy.
Hayden-based Kootenai Electric Cooperative will do so through an agreement with Kootenai County to burn the methane gas generated by the Fighting Creek landfill to produce power.
“We have a unique situation here, which makes this a wonderful project,” said Larry Bryant, Kootenai Electric’s marketing manager. “We have fuel in close proximity to the power lines. Basically what we’re doing is putting a generator in between the two. So it’s very economical. The power will go right to the power lines.”
Kootenai Electric will lease about an acre of land at the landfill, which is 13 miles south of Coeur d’Alene. Construction is expected to begin this summer on a slightly less-than $7 million power plant, financed through the sales of low-interest, Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. The plant will include two generators, and the possibility of a third in eight to 10 years. Kootenai Electric will run power lines about 500 feet to tie into the generator building.
Kootenai Electric will pay the county at least $2 million over the next 20 years for the methane gas produced by the landfill, depending on the amount available. The two parties on Tuesday signed an agreement for a 20-year contract. The county’s solid waste director, Roger Saterfiel, had been researching such a project for several years, seeking a way to use the gas generated by decomposing garbage to produce power. Currently, the gas is burned off.
“When this project was first proposed, the commissioners had a number of requirements,” said Rick Currie, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. “One, that we deal with a local power company and … two, that the power generated be used for the residents of Kootenai County. Obviously, we are accomplishing that.
“This is an important project,” Currie said. “This is news in reference to green energy.”
Kootenai Electric has always purchased its power from Bonneville Power Administration and has been searching for alternate generation sources because BPA costs are due to increase in 2011, Bryant said. This project will not result in higher rates for Kootenai Electric customers, and as other costs rise, the price for this power source will stay constant, he said.
“We found the cost of this power … is competitive with the market prices for additional generation and also competitive when looking at renewable energy projects,” Bryant said. “Working with the county is almost a marriage made in heaven.”
KEC hopes to have the 3.2-megawatt power plant up and running in 18 to 24 months. Initially, it will produce enough power to supply 1,200 households, a number that should double within the first few years, Bryant said. If a third generator is installed, some 3,000 households could be served, he said. The nonprofit, member-owned utility serves 23,000 residential and business accounts.
The amount of money Kootenai County could earn by selling the methane gas depends on the amount of gas produced. Two projects could help increase the quantity, Saterfiel said. First, a new recycling program will help remove non-methane gas producing trash from the landfill that can clog the system, he said. Second, a $205,000 federal grant will make the landfill’s gas-capturing piping system more efficient.
The county and Kootenai Electric also want to use the project to educate students and others about the benefits of burning methane gas to produce power. Hundreds of such projects exist nationwide, with one of the largest being the 10-megawatt plant at the Rabanco landfill in south-central Washington.
That plant is due to expand by 28 megawatts in June, said Dennis McLaughlin, Rabanco’s regional manager in Spokane.
“If you’re not doing that, you’re nuts,” McLaughlin said of producing power by burning methane gas. “If you can get something positive out of a negative, go ahead and do it. You’re burning it off anyway, so you might as well get something out of it.”