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Augusta could generate electricity using methane from Hatch Hill landfill

03.03.2017

The city already captures, and burns off with a flare, methane gas produced at the landfill.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA — City officials propose to add electrical infrastructure that could lead to methane produced by decomposing garbage at Hatch Hill landfill being used to produce electricity.

The city already captures, and burns off with a flare, methane gas produced at the landfill to prevent it from escaping into the environment.

 Lane Gould
 Lane Gould, technical supervisor at Hatch Hill, talks about the methane flare on Tuesday at Hatch Hill landfill in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

 

But a proposal from city officials to have Central Maine Power install new electrical infrastructure to bring three-phase power to Hatch Hill would also allow the city to further explore a proposal to capture the gas and use it to produce electricity. Three-phase power is necessary at the landfill to run heavy equipment, according to city officials.

City Manager William Bridgeo said initial analysis indicates the city could generate electricity at Hatch Hill, which would be fed back into the electrical grid, with the city getting a credit on its electric bills for major city and school facilities in Augusta, and save enough money doing so to pay for the upgrade. It would generate additional savings as well.

“It appears to be very promising, the numbers we’re seeing suggest we could have a favorable impact on our electricity bills,” Bridgeo said Tuesday.

Bridgeo said a recently completed engineering report by Competitive Energy Services confirmed city staff’s previous assessment that the city could generate enough electricity at Hatch Hill for the potential project to return a positive payback on the city’s investment. He said, if the proposal moves forward and councilors approve of it, the city could borrow money to pay for the project, and more than pay back the loan with the savings in electricity costs.

But three-phase power would be needed at Hatch Hill to handle the new system, and the landfill currently only has singe-phase power, which comes via a line from Route 3 installed in the 1960s, according to Lesley Jones, public works director.

Bridgeo and Jones said even if the city never moves forward with a proposal to build a facility to convert methane to electricity, having three-phase power at Hatch Hill would have benefits.

Jones said several pieces of equipment at Hatch Hill should operate on three-phase power, such as recycling balers and leachate pumps. Without access to it, the city instead uses converters and variable frequency drives to run that equipment, but she said doing so makes it less efficient and shortens the life span of the motors.

Bringing three-phase power to the site would cost about $375,000, which Bridgeo said could come out of the Hatch Hill enterprise fund, with no impact on the city’s property tax rate. Jones said Bob LaBreck, city facilities manager, has been working with CMP on a proposal to bring three-phase power to Hatch Hill from South Belfast Avenue, which would be less costly than bringing it from Route 3.

Jones said three-phase power would also be more reliable, resulting in fewer power outages at the landfill.

While the current landfill is projected to be full in 12 to 15 years, the facility, Bridgeo and Jones said, will still likely be used as a disposal site.

Bridgeo said the city also, longer term, plans to study the potential for installing solar panels at Hatch Hill, which could allow the site to produce more electricity on top of that potentially produced by the methane conversion system.

In 2012, a man representing an international company pitched a proposal to build a plant at Hatch Hill that would process trash from the landfill and turn it into liquid fuel, such as diesel fuel.

Bridgeo said that proposal was attractive when diesel and gas prices were high, but the economics of it wouldn’t work at Hatch Hill with the current, relatively low, fuel prices.

Bridgeo said if councilors approve and the proposal moves forward, it could go online in early 2018.

Councilors meet to discuss the proposal to bring three-phase power to Hatch Hill at their 6:30 p.m. meeting Thursday, in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Councilors are also scheduled to hear a presentation on Howard Hill, a 164 acre property that provides a natural, dramatic, and largely unspoiled backdrop to the State House Complex.

 

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