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Turning Waste into Energy

Mark Ohrenschall
Con.Web, December 20, 2002

Northwest's Potentially Biggest Landfill-Gas Project Moving Ahead near Seattle

The Northwest's potentially biggest landfill-gas-to-energy plant is moving toward development.

Projected at up to 27 megawatts capacity, this renewable energy project would be located at the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill 20 miles southeast of Seattle--the only active landfill in the region's most populous county.

Contract negotiations are progressing between landfill owner King County and Energy Developments, Inc. , the firm selected through a request for proposals to buy landfill gas from the county and build and operate the power generating venture. EDI expects a final contract by early 2003. County project manager Mark Buscher expressed optimism about a development pact, but cautioned it's not a certainty because of lingering questions about Cedar Hills' economic feasibility, which is tied to wholesale power market conditions.

Multinational EDI has sent inquiries to would-be power purchasers--Northwest utilities and others--seeking expressions of interest by early January.

Electrons could start flowing by late 2004, from what would be one of the nation's largest landfill-gas ventures. The project would likely use gas-fired turbines with heat recovery and a single steam turbine, according to EDI.

Landfill Gas Opportunity
King County has long eyed the energy potential at its Cedar Hills landfill, according to a March 2001 study by consulting firm R.W. Beck. "Up to this point, however, project economics were unfavorable due to the relatively low price for electricity and natural gas in the region. Recent run-up in energy prices and advances in technology have improved project feasibility."

Buscher concurred that the energy crisis fueled renewed interest in this landfill-gas venture. Over the past dozen years, he told Con.WEB, the county selected at least two other companies to develop a project, but each concluded the pursuit of profitability was too risky, given the region's low electricity prices.

"We do expect over the long term that wholesale energy prices ... are going to grow and grow somewhat steadily," Buscher said. King County's Solid Waste Division issued a request for proposals in October 2001, generating six responses. Energy Developments was chosen for negotiations based on environmental performance, community impact, mitigation plans, financial resources, technical expertise, experience, safety record and price proposed to buy the landfill gas to convert into electricity, according to the Division's 2002 annual report. "This is their core business, making energy from secondary fuel sources," said Buscher. "We're really happy to be working with them."

EDI, which specializes in renewable energy projects, expects a finalized contract this month or early 2003, wrote business development vice president Dennis Bollinger in an e-mail interview. "We do not foresee any particular issue arising."

Buscher characterized the contract negotiations as "productive" and believes there is a "good chance" they will reach fruition. "Is this a done deal? No, it's not, simply because of the market conditions we all have to be subject to," said Buscher. The big question: "Can they generate energy from the landfill gas in a manner that successfully allows them to sell energy in the market?"

Asked about the market for landfill-gas energy, especially amid low power prices, Bollinger responded: "Demand for renewable resource power continues to grow throughout the country; therefore, EDI will continue to develop clean energy power plants."

The company is focusing on utilities as potential buyers of Cedar Hills power, he noted, and is discussing prospects with "several" Northwest utilities.

Capital and energy costs for the venture are still undetermined, according to Bollinger. Buscher declined comment on cost questions. EDI expects to sell net generation of 27 MW from its landfill-gas-fired generation project, according to the company's Nov. 27 solicitation of interest. (Buscher and county documents listed potential capacity of 22 MW to 26 MW). A total of 17 MW would be available by late 2004, the company said, with another 10 MW anticipated by early 2006. That second phase refers to a heat-recovery system (from gas-fired turbines) for steam turbine power generation, Buscher said.

EDI intends to sell firm power from the project until the plant shuts down at the end of 2024, stated the letter of inquiry. The company expects Cedar Hills to continually generate near its capacity through the landfill's projected closure in 2012, after which output "may decline" slightly over the years.

Transmission access should be doable, according to EDI. Crossing the landfill are two 500-kilovolt and three 230-KV Bonneville Power Administration lines, one of which is leased to Puget Sound Energy. However, EDI acknowledged it does not yet have transmission rights for Cedar Hills power.

Green certification and tax credits are likely to be available from the project, EDI also said.

Lots of Trash
At 27 MW, Cedar Hills would more than double the size of the next-largest landfill-gas plant in the Northwest, Klickitat PUD's H.W. Hill Landfill Gas Power Plant, with a 10.5 MW capacity. At least four other smaller landfill-gas projects operate in the Northwest.

Cedar Hills contains plenty of trash from which landfill gas is created. Opened in 1962, the 920-acre landfill near suburban Renton holds an estimated 26 million tons of accumulated garbage, and with about 1 million new tons received annually, it should have about 35 million tons by its planned 2012 closure.

Each day at Cedar Hills, according to the Solid Waste Division, anaerobic decomposition of organic wastes produces some 14 million cubic feet of landfill gas, predominantly methane and carbon dioxide. This gas is now collected and burned in five flares. "The project will largely replace the constant, high-temperature flares that currently burn off the landfill's gases," said an October media advisory from King County. "The gas-to-energy project will improve air quality while being quieter and less visible than the current flare systems."

Making productive use of this waste gas represents a net environmental gain, Buscher said. It would also reduce the need for power from other sources, especially in peak periods.

The project also would generate dollars for the financially troubled county--perhaps up to $1 million or more in annual revenues, depending on the contract terms, according to Buscher.

In addition to a signed contract EDI still needs air, solid waste, water and other permits to develop the landfill-gas plant, although, "There are no environmental issues at this project location," Bollinger told Con.WEB. The county's Solid Waste Division described in its annual report "a high level of support for the project from the public and regulators."

The county has held two public meetings on the Cedar Hills landfill-gas-to-energy proposal. "Nobody has stepped forward and said, 'Well, we don't think this is a good idea,'" said Buscher. "To the contrary, those people that have expressed an opinion are favorable to the project." Still, he added, "We're certainly not taking the opinion there is no opposition or there are no concerns that have to be addressed."

Related Sites:
King County's Web site for the proposed Cedar Hills landfill-gas project
Energy Developments, Inc.

Mark Ohrenschall
Turning Waste into Energy
Con.Web - December 20, 1998

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