Sitting in his office Tuesday morning, Surry County Public Works Director Dennis Bledsoe smiled.
“We’re online,” he said succinctly.
While still in the testing and “tweaking” phase, and with a planned ribbon-cutting ceremony still a couple of months away, Bledsoe nevertheless noted that a project to convert naturally-produced methane at the landfill to usable energy has become a reality.
“We are now generating power,” he said proudly. “We turned the system on last week.”
The project, one of the first of its kind in this area, collects methane gas that is released as a natural by-product of decomposition, cleans it and uses it to create energy.
Contractor Petra Engineering has installed a collection system to harvest the methane gas and direct it to a 20-cylinder engine designed specifically by Caterpillar for methane collection, using it to generate 2,240 horsepower, which in turn powers a 1,600-kilowatt generator.
When the system becomes fully operational, the county will sell the power created at the landfill to Duke Energy, which will in turn place it on the state’s electric grid.
“It’s running real well,” Bledsoe said. “The system is still being tuned and tweaked a little but, but we’re currently producing enough energy to power about 490 homes, which is a little over 50 percent of projected output.”
Output from the system is expected to be around 1.6 megawatts, or “the equivalent of supplying between 900 and 925 homes.”
Expansion of the project is possible down the road.
“Within the next few months, we’re going to be producing power at 100 percent,” he added with a smile. “But we need to run it in a test phase for a few months, but in the very near future the county will begin generating power at a commercial capacity.”
According to the public works director, reaching this point has been an exercise in patience.
“There have been no major hiccups during the construction, but the process of turning the system on involved a lot of things that had to be checked and double-checked to ensure things were working properly,” he said. “We had a 27-page checklist we had to go through to ensure compliance with all regulations, and everything had to be synced between Petra Engineering, Duke Power and the equipment manufacturers. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong.”
Bledsoe calls the system a win-win for the county.
“I feel really good about this project,” he said. “We’re taking a natural resource provided to us by God and using it for the benefit of the people rather than disbursing it into the air as waste.”
According to Bledsoe, methane gas is 21 times more harmful to the ozone layer than the carbon monoxide emitted by vehicles.
The project is costing the county nothing, according to the public works director.
When the system is fully online, the county will receive revenue from the power company, through structured annual payments, for the first seven years of the project. After that time, the county will receive 25 percent of net revenues from years eight through 20 of the project.
The contract also stipulates that the county could purchase the energy generation system after the 20 years.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.