By STEVEN NALLEY
The Golden Triangle Regional Landfill held a grand opening ceremony yesterday for a new facility which converts methane gas emanating from the landfill into electricity to supplement local power grids.
The facility was operational before the grand opening, but members of the GTRL Board of Commissioners were on hand to switch on ceremonial light switches in lieu of a more traditional ribbon cutting to signal the facility was open for business. The ceremony attracted several Mississippi politicians and businessmen, including state senators, county supervisors, city board members, mayors and representatives from General Electric, 4-County Electric Power Association and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Jimmy Sloan, GTRL executive director, said landfill trash generates gases when it decomposes, amounting to nearly 50 percent methane, nearly 50 percent carbon dioxide and trace amounts of other chemicals. The new facility pressurizes methane into a GE Jenbacher landfill gas engine to generate one megawatt of electricity per hour.
“It’s green power; it’s renewable energy; it’s all of the things you need to do to help make yourself be more energy independent,” Sloan said. “It should save some money. We hope it may, in the future of the facility, be able to help us lower our tipping fees here at the landfill.”
Sloan said the project was conceived during three months early in 2010, and on Oct. 12, 2010 — exactly one year ago — TVA accepted the project into their Generation Partners program. Generation Partners incentivizes alternative energy programs by buying electricity they generate at a premium, and without them, he said, GTRL might not have been able to create the facility.
“Without that program, these projects are very, very expensive,” Sloan said. “If you can’t get a return on your investment in a decent amount of time, it’s just financially not worth it. It would still be environmentally worth it, but we also had to look at the financial end of it.”
Sloan said the project also could not have happened without the help of three engineering firms: Neel-Schaffer Engineers in Jackson, Atwell and Gent in Starkville and Riley, Park, Hayden and Associates in Duluth, Ga. He also said 4-County had been helpful as an intermediary between TVA and GTRL, particularly 4-County CEO Joe Cade and marketing manager Jon Turner.
Turner said the full 4-County system has an average demand of about 200 megawatts, and since their average residential member uses about 1,500 kWh per month, the project will produce enough electricity to power about 500 homes per month.
“The landfill will be a relative small drop in the bucket, but an important one nonetheless,” Turner said. “The payment (TVA offers GTRL) for the power is 3 cents above the current retail rate that the landfill pays for power to us. It could and undoubtedly will fluctuate over the life of the 10-year contract.”
David Sparks, Mississippi energy efficiency manager with TVA, said even though TVA spends extra money on renewable energy through Generation Partners’ incentives, TVA ultimately benefits, because the incentives are cheaper than construction of new, conventional power plants. Of course, he said, new power plants will be built to meet power needs, but several alternative energy sources through Generation Partners could save TVA construction costs in the long run.
“If we can take incentives, put those into the local economy, help local consumers produce power locally and make energy efficiency improvements, that’s smarter than going out and building a new power plant and spending twice as much money,” Sparks said. “So it’s the right thing to do, and it makes sense for us to do it.”
Sparks said TVA is committed to getting 3.5 percent of its energy from alternative sources, the equivalent of several nuclear reactors. He said Generation Partners has been gaining popularity, and more facilities like the one at GTRL are coming to Mississippi and other states.
“The next one will be at Three Rivers (Regional Landfill) in Pontotoc,” Sparks said. “They have a megawatt landfill gas system that will be coming online probably in February. We also have over 30 Generation Partners service projects across the TVA service area in Mississippi, producing close to 3 megawatts of energy, including this one. So we have a lot of residential, commercial and industrial customers who are in solar, plus a couple doing the landfill gas.”