Landfill methane-to-energy project gets national award

Lycoming County was one of seven places in the country to receive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s award for excellence in landfill gas energy projects for 2012.

The county was recognized for its landfill methane gas-to-energy project that officially began operations last fall.

More than 70 gas wells were drilled to feed a new combined 6.2-megawatt turbine that operates off of the landfill’s waste gases.

The system, designed, constructed and owned by PPL Renewable Energy, produces 80 percent of the electrical needs for the nearby Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex and 90 percent of the electrical and heating needs for the county’s landfill complex.

Under the project, PPL Renewable Energy buys gas from the county to operate the turbines. The county then buys back a portion of the electricity and sells it to the prison complex. Power also is sent to the electrical grid and used locally, according to R. Stephen Tucker, county resource management services director.

“This was a win-win-win scenario for everyone involved,” Tucker.

Lycoming County already has a history of producing energy from the landfill’s methane gas, Tucker said. But the 1-kilowatt system only provided limited power to the landfill’s operations, he said.

Tucker also credited previous county commissioners and state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, who was the county’s solicitor at the time, for their vision of harnessing all the methane gas available from the landfill.

Yaw, who was present at Thursday’s presentation at the commissioners’ meeting, said he frequently became frustrated when driving by the landfill and seeing excess methane being flared off.

“We’re utilizing all of the landfill methane (now). We’re not flaring anything,” said Tucker.

The county’s waste gas-to-energy project produces enough electricity to power 4,000 homes a year and has the equivalent reduction of 80,000 barrels of oil a year, according to PPL Renewable Energy.

“I give the county credit for saying this was a new way to go,” Yaw said. “It’s a heck of a project, and I’m not sure if everyone realizes what a big deal it is.”

Donna Zickefoose, Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex warden, said the local institution is the first federal prison to be involved in such a project. She said it will save the prison $5 million during the next decade.

“That’s a lot of money that the taxpayers save,” she said.

The U.S. EPA selects organizations yearly that demonstrate innovation and creativity in promoting landfill gas-to-energy that achieve environmental and economic benefits.

Other landfill projects that received awards for their work included facilities in Maryland, Georgia, Wisconsin, California, Louisiana and North Carolina.