Martinsville soon will be able to produce electricity from methane given off by garbage eroding in the city's former landfill off Clearview Drive.
The necessary equipment, including a large generator with a 20-cylinder engine, was delivered to the site Monday night and now is being installed.
The burn equipment and the devices now being installed at the former landfill together cost about $1.7 million. A Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy grant of $1 million was secured, with the bond issue covering the rest, said Jeff Joyce, the city's assistant public works director.
Tests must be done after the installation is finished. If everything works properly, the equipment should be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week by mid-March, he said.
Joyce said the equipment will produce 1 megawatt of electricity - equal to one million watts - when it is operating. That is about 2 percent of the total power usage of city homes and businesses at any given time, he said.
Officials estimate the methane-generated power will save Martinsville about $400,000 a year on its costs to buy wholesale electricity that it distributes to city electric department customers. About $13.8 million has been budgeted for power in the current fiscal year, said city Utilities Director Dennis Bowles.
Along with saving money, Joyce said, the city is taking a harmful gas out of the atmosphere and "making something useful out of it."
Methane is a colorless gas made up of carbon and hydrogen molecules. At a landfill, bacteria in the soil digests trash and produces methane and carbon dioxide. Those gases then go into the atmosphere if they are not contained.
Scientists think high levels of methane and carbon dioxide are contributing to climate change. Joyce said, though, that methane has been shown to be about 22 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Between 240 and 280 cubit feet of methane per minute is being produced by eroding trash at the former city landfill, depending on weather conditions, Joyce said.
That is a tiny fraction of the methane entering the atmosphere worldwide, he said. However, he said most landfills now being developed, as well as some others, are installing methane-removal equipment.
When all of those efforts are taken into consideration, methane emissions are significantly being reduced and that helps the environment, he said.
A system of 42 wells and other devices at the former city landfill remove gases from the ground, and methane is burned to get rid of it.
When the power generation equipment is fully operating, the burn system will be shut down except for when the generating equipment is undergoing maintenance, according to Joyce.
To increase efficiency, the system will chill and compress the methane to remove moisture before the gas is turned into electricity or burned, he said.
By burning methane during the past 18 months, Joyce said, Martinsville has achieved about 47,000 tons worth of carbon credits it sell can eventually to make money.
Companies whose emissions are at higher levels than those allowed by the federal government can buy the credits. Joyce said the credits now are selling for about $2 per ton, but they have sold for $10 to $12 per ton when they have been "a hot political item."
Eventually, the state and federal governments probably are going to force the owners of current and former landfill sites to do something about their gas emissions, Joyce said.
By doing something about emissions now voluntarily, the city is able to sell carbon credits, he said. Those sites placed under "enforcement actions" by government entities are not able to do so, he added.
Interim City Manager/Public Works Director Leon Towarnicki said the city plans a ceremony to promote the power-generating equipment when it is completely up and running.
"This is a project ... (which) the state wants everyone to see" due to its positive effects on the environment, Joyce said.
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