Dubuque metro landfill looks to turn methane into money
Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
Dubuque is looking to turn 2.2 million tons of trash into something that will save both money and the environment.
At the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency (DMASWA) landfill, eight "cells" hold some 2.2 million tons of trash. The garbage has accumulated from Dubuque and Delaware counties since the mid-70s.
Decomposing trash naturally releases greenhouse gases, which seep up through the ground if not tapped and enter the air, to the detriment of the environment.
"The agency was aware that there's quite a bit of fugitive methane leaking from the landfill -- as it does from all landfills -- and contributing to greenhouse gas effects and problems," Dubuque public works director Don Vogt said.
That's why in 2009, the DMASWA started building a system to collect the gas and then burn it off, which is better for the environment. That started up in 2010.
"What we're doing is we're just flaring it up in the air and making it safe right now," DMASWA administrator Chuck Goddard said.
50 to 60 percent of this gas is methane, which agency officials hope to soon convert into electricity and sell.
"Not only would there be the revenue stream from selling the electricity, but the heat that would come off of the two generators would be used to heat the buildings out there, so it would dramatically reduce our heating costs," Vogt said.
"We're only going to be the second one in the state of Iowa that's actually going to make electricity from our gas, so we are being kind of leaders in the state of Iowa," Goddard said, adding that Cedar Rapids is the first and Iowa City looks to be a close third.
The methane-to-electricity conversion would require an estimated $3.5 million to $4 million electrical generating station. Goddard said this could take more than a decade to pay off, but Vogt said taxpayers won't be on the hook, since funding would likely come from Iowa Energy Bank low-interest loans.
Goddard said he anticipates the project will create about 12 million kWh of energy per year, which could power some 1,000 average American homes annually. Vogt said he foresees a solid 50-year supply of the gas.
The DMASWA is in negotiations right now to sell the electricity it would generate to Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO), which provides power to the Maquoketa Valley Electric Cooperative (MVEC).
Vogt said the DMASWA hopes to have a contract signed in January, with electrical generation up and running by the end of summer 2013.
"Right now, things are looking up for this project," he said, though cautiously, since a similar deal with Alliant Energy fell through in December of last year.
Vogt also added the landfill does not, nor never has, run on taxpayer dollars. He said it operates purely on user fees and -- when necessary, such as in this case -- outside funding such as low-interest loans.
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