February 11, 2010


County considers burning methane at landfill

Staff Reporter

Cortland County legislators are considering burning methane gas at the county landfill and then selling the carbon credits in an attempt to offset what could become the mandated cost of burning the gas in the future.
Methane gas is a natural byproduct of decomposing garbage at the landfill. The credits would be the difference between the methane emission and the emission from the burning fumes that could be sold as a commodity on the market.
The equipment to capture and burn the fumes is estimated by the county’s Syracuse-based engineering consultant Barton and Loguidice to cost approximately $850,000. The county would have to borrow money to pay for the equipment.
Burning the fumes converts them to a more environmentally friendly form and although the county is not required to burn them now, county officials are anticipating being mandated to do this in the future.
Highway Department Superintendent Don Chambers explained at Tuesday’s Highway Committee meeting that the county is not mandated to burn the fumes since the landfill is smaller than 2.75 million tons; the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s threshold for gas collection.
Chambers said the DEC is in the process of changing its regulations.
DEC spokesman Yancey Roy said the proposed revisions would not change the thresholds. But it is “conceivable” that the thresholds could change in the future due to Gov. David Paterson’s proposed initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said. Roy said it is premature to say definitively whether lowered thresholds would be a part of this initiative.
Chambers said that methane is a known greenhouse gas, which is converted into a less harmful form when trapped and burned before being released into the air.
The credits could be sold to a corporation or plant that wants to reduce its emissions through the purchase, Chambers said.
Chambers admitted that since the carbon credits would be sold as a commodity, he could not project how much they would be worth since the value fluctuates.
Chambers said it is estimated the landfill would make between $35,000 and $100,000 annually in selling the credits. This would mean the project would be paid off in about nine years, given the upper end of the estimate.
Some legislators are unwilling to take the risk and bond for an expensive project in the hopes that selling the carbon credits will pay it off.
Legislators Jennifer Gofkowski (D-Homer) and Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) were among those who said the county could not afford to bond for such an expense during this time of economic hardship.
Briggs called the endeavor of selling carbon credits a gamble, saying she is not willing to take the risk.
“My constituents are losing their homes and leaving the county. To spend close to $1 million ... on revenue that may or may not come, I can’t do,” Briggs said.
But Legislator John Troy (D-1st Ward) said he did not want to dismiss the idea out of hand.
“It is something we should look at closer,” Troy said, adding that if the county puts off the project, it could be mandated to burn the fumes and then lose the chance of selling the carbon credits.
Highway Committee Chairman Dave Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet) said Barton and Loguidice representatives would make a presentation on the project at the March legislative session.
“If we make our decision on informed information, then that’s OK,” Fuller said.


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