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Methane power at 80 percent capacity
Thursday, September 27, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A new generator at Martinsville’s old landfill that produces electricity from gas released by eroding trash is running at an average capacity of about 80 percent, according to Interim City Manager Leon Towarnicki.
The generator officially was turned on May 17 after it was tested for a few months. It is running “pretty much around the clock” now and so far has had no major problems, Towarnicki said recently.
It is expected to provide 2 to 3 percent of Martinsville’s total demand for electricity and save the city up to $500,000 yearly on its wholesale power costs, officials have said.
Methane, a gas that is nontoxic but thought by scientists to contribute to global warming when it is released into the atmosphere, comprises between 40 percent and 60 percent of the gas emitted at the landfill off Clearview Drive, which closed in 2006. The rest of the gas mostly is carbon dioxide.
The amount of gas emitted at the landfill affects how much electricity is produced, said Towarnicki, who also is the city’s public works director.
“Gas production in the landfill varies,” he said. “It kind of ebbs and flows” based on barometric pressure and other weather conditions.
The generator’s capacity is one megawatt, equal to one million watts, but it usually is producing 700 to 800 kilowatts of electricity, Towarnicki said.
In times of peak demand for electricity, the generator can be revved up to its capacity, but it uses more gas. When the demand drops, the amount of power it produces is lowered for a while to help the gas level build back up, according to Towarnicki.
The city sells electricity to its homes and businesses. It has budgeted about $14 million in the current fiscal year for wholesale power purchases. That is about the same amount budgeted in the past fiscal year.
With the generator now producing power, the amount that the city spends to buy electricity should be less than the amount budgeted, barring other increases, Towarnicki said.
Installation of the generator and related equipment, including 42 wells to collect gas, cost about $2.5 million. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy contributed $1 million of that. The rest of the cost was covered by the city and a bond issue.