The Seattle-area garbage decomposing at Rabanco’s huge Eastern Washington landfill may soon be used to produce electricity for consumers.
The Bellevue-based waste hauler and the Klickitat County Public Utility District have announced a plan to pump methane from the landfill and run it through an internal-combustion engine to produce electricity. The electricity would be used locally or sold.
The project is an important test of whether consumers will pay more for electricity generated from renewable sources. Electricity from “green” sources such as solar or wind power usually costs more than that generated by hydropower dams, coal or natural-gas-fired combustion turbines.
“What we’re trying to ascertain is what people’s value of renewables is in the market,” said Brian Skeaham, general manager of the utility district.
Power generated from landfill waste is likely to be “a little more expensive than short-term power,” which utilities sell to one another through spot-market contracts, but “not uneconomic in today’s market,” Skeaham said
The Klickitat County PUD is now taking bids from other utilities for the power and could be delivering electricity by 1999.
Methane gas is created when organic material decomposes, and usually simply leaks into the atmosphere. At Rabanco’s landfill near Roosevelt, on the Columbia River in south-central Washington, it is collected and burned off, a common practice.
The plan is to divert that gas to six large engines, which would generate marketable power.
The Klickitat PUD will start by marketing 6 to 7 megawatts of power. The district and Rabanco believe the landfill could produce as much as 60 megawatts when peak production is reached in 2014.
The utility district, which now provides power from the Bonneville Power Administration to its 9,300 customers, will also use some of the power generated by methane from the landfill.
The landfill, which opened in 1990, was designed with gas-collection systems to prepare for power generation, Rabanco said.
But the potentially high cost remains an obstacle. The city of Seattle considered but rejected proposals to produce electricity or steam using methane at its two now-closed landfills.
“There’s no way that process can be competitive with the low rate from hydro,” said John Tyers, spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities.
But in the Midwest, where electric rates are much higher, “all of a sudden methane is real interesting,” Tyers said.
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