If the smell of methane wafting from the ground at the Surry County Landfill is any indication, a project to collect the gas and convert it to usable energy is going to be a boon for the county.
The fact that the county has a free source of money flowing from the ground was the message Tuesday afternoon, as county officials were joined by leaders in the area’s civic and business communities at the landfill for groundbreaking a ceremony for the county’s “Gas to Energy” project.
The project, one of the first in this area, will collect methane gas that is released as a natural by-product of decomposition, clean it and use it to create energy.
Under the gas-to-energy project, Petra Engineering will install a collection system to harvest the methane gas and direct it to a 20-cylinder engine.
The engine was designed specifically by Caterpillar for methane collection, and will use the gas to produce 2,240 horsepower, which in turn will power a 1,600-kilowatt generate.
Using statewide consumption rates as a guide, the new Surry County Co-Generation Facility will produce enough power to light hundreds of homes annually.
During Tuesday’s groundbreaking, Wayne Marshall, a principal at Petra Engineering, said the event marks the beginning — not the end — of the project.
“This day marks the beginning of construction on a project that will take a naturally-occurring by-product from your landfill and convert into enough power to light more than 900 homes,” he said.
The Gas to Energy project is fully funded by private investment, and will not cost the county any money, according to Marshall.
Board of Commissioners Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding said the move will benefit all county citizens.
“This indeed is the beginning of something good for all the citizens of Surry County,” he said. “No one knows how much gas is here, but we believe it will be enough to make this a continued benefit for the future.”
Under the program, 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.
Commissioner Paul Johnson said the seeds of the initiative were planted at least a decade ago, but work began in earnest in 2010, when the county began discussions with CHA Consultants.
“We’ve been working diligently for a couple of years, and all the planning up to this point has gone smoothly,” he said. “We now just hope it continues to grow in the future.”
Commissioner Larry Phillips called the project a win-win for the county.
“What you’re seeing here today is a problem being taken and converted into a renewable form of energy that will in turn become a source of revenue for the county,” he said.
It was a sentiment that was echoed by State Sen. Don East, who lives only a couple of miles from the landfill.
“This is something that’s very innovative and I’m glad it’s being done in Surry County,” he said, looking over the landfill. “I believe we’re standing on all sorts of energy right now. I can’t wait to see what a great success this will be for the county.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.