ALLENWOOD - It takes about two years for organic materials found in garbage dumps to decompose into methane, but the Lycoming County Landfill is using the waste byproduct right now to produce electricity and heat in an environmentally friendly way.
County, state and PPL Renewable Energy officials gathered Thursday at the landfill along Route 15 in Montgomery to formerly open a new gas-to-energy production facility that provides most of the electricity to the nearby Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex, power into the electrical grid and heat to buildings on the landfill grounds.
PPL Renewable Energy, an affiliate of the PPL Corp., designed, constructed and owns the new 6.2-megawatt plant at the landfill.
Heat distorts the air as methane gas is burned off to produce electricity at the Lycoming County Landfill on Thursday.
In an agreement with the county, PPL will purchase methane gas from the county to fuel the plant. The county then will buy back a portion of the electricity generated and sell it to the prison.
"I'm in awe of this project. It's incredible," said Steve Tucker, landfill director.
The new facility, fed by 71 methane wells drilled around the landfill to four huge Caterpillar engines, produces enough electricity to power 4,000 homes and eliminates the equivalent of 80,000 barrels of imported oil a year, according to PPL officials.
Infrastructure and equipment for the new site was up and running in a little more than a year, but the idea for it was born long before. Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland credited former Commissioner Rebecca Burke and state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, for helping to get the idea off the ground nearly seven years ago.
Yaw, a former solicitor for the county commissioners, said he was disturbed when he saw the flames from excess methane gas being burned off at the landfill when he traveled Route 15.
"Without those flames burning, we're now producing money," he said.
The project allows the federal prison to fulfill its mandate to use renewable energy, Yaw added.
"It really shows there can be cooperative effort between state, local and federal government," he said.
Rick Klingensmith, PPL Global president, said the Lycoming County project is the company's 10th renewable gas-to-energy facility in the state.
He said the project has created jobs, energy and bettered the environment by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.
"The long-term benefits are substantial," he said.