Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

A Green Howard County

Posted by David Keelan on Monday, September 18, 2006

Today, Chris Merdon proposed a Green Plan for Howard County.

I think it shows great leadership in terms of environmental initiatives that will improve our quality of life.  It comprises a number of suggestions.

1.  Utilize excess funds in the Ag Pres program to purchase development rights in the Eastern part of Howard County.  Currently the County has excess funds in the program because of diminishing interest in the program.  However, there exist parcels of land in the County that could be purchased through this program to preserve open space that could be converted to a number of public uses including play grounds, small parks, etc.

2.  Capture methane gas produced by Howard County landfills to convert into electricity.  I think this is brilliant.  The EPA has identified the Alpha Ridge landfill as a possible site for such a purpose.  There are a number of successful projects around the country.  Merdon sites three such projects in Prince George’s County.  You can see them here.

Prince George’s produces enough electricity to provide all the electrical needs for the correctional facility, NASA, and generate over $40,000 per month in sale of excess production to the public electrical grid.

A Howard County partnership with the EPA, the State of Maryland, and the public sector could exploit this waste by product and help the environment as well.

In an earlier life a customer of mine in the Poconos was a landfill.  They were ahead of the times.  This was over 15 years ago and they were already converting methane into electricity.  They produced enough to run their operations, however at that time the electrical utilities didn’t have to purchase excess electrical generation from the landfill.  Times have changed.  It was a very interesting and eye opening educational experience.  Technology, regulations, and necessity has caught up with the times.

Howard County could use this “trash to electricity” for our own governement of school needs, sell the electricity to the open market, or use it as an incentive to attract new businesses to the County.

Does a cost exist?  Sure.  We need to plant wells, install a pipe line, install equipment to convert the methane and to generate the electricity.  It has been proven that the return on the investment is too attractive not to consider.  Additionally, funding assistance may be available at the Federal and State level to start these projects.  I speak specifically of the Maryland Community Energy Loan Program.

The Community Energy Loan Program (CELP), originally funded in 1989 with $3.2 million in seed money, provides financing for local governments and nonprofit organizations in the State to identify and implement energy conservation improvements. CELP allows borrowers to use the cost savings generated by the improvements as the primary source of revenue for repaying the loans.  In partnership with the private sector Howard County could potentially completely defray the costs as Prince George’s County did in the NASA application.

3.  Reforestation.  When developers take down trees they have the option to either replace them or pay into a fund so the County can reforest.  The problem is that the County is sitting on those funds.  Merdon correctly points out that the fee in lieu of program operates at a loss.  This is an intensely manual process and the labor costs probably contribute to the loss.  However, we can reforest thousands of trees in the County through a focus on this program.

4.  Alternative Fuel Vehicles.  Why not.  How many vehicles are in the County fleet?  Hundreds?  The most immediate thing we could do is start using bio-diesel which is produced right here in Maryland – on the Eastern Shore.  This is simple to implement and the modification to diesel vehicles is minor.  We are talking about replacing filters and fuel lines in order to accommodate a thicker fuel.  I don’t expect any cost savings, but I don’t expect any increase in operating costs either.  This is more than likely a warm weather solution in that I don’t know how well it holds up in cold weather.  This is a renewable source of energy that produces lower emissions.  It can be used in a pure form or mixed with petroleum diesel.

There are not many bio-diesel distribution centers in Maryland however the County currently store its own fuel and could also store bio-diesel.

Additionally, the purchase of hybrid or natural gas vehicles is part of the plan.

A couple of things that could be added to this program are using Bio-Heat which is a mixture of petroleum home heating oil with bio-diesel.  From what I have been able to learn is that our fire houses currently have oil burning boilers and purchase heating oil from  They are not a supplier of bio-heat, but the County could make it mandatory that when feasible such facilities and others that use petroleum based heating oil convert to bio-heat.  Studies show, Bio-Heat is a cleaner-burning fuel that is better for the environment and public health, producing 75% less sulfur emissions, 12% less nitrogen oxide emissions, and 10% less carbon dioxide emissions.

The plan could also include the promotion of bio-heat use among county residents who use petroleum based home heating oil.  I myself have contacted the closest distributor in Wesminster seeking a proposal and I have contacted my current supplier about this option.  Costs are very similar and can be less than petroleum based options.

Finally, as an economic incentive and development opportunity Howard County should consider attracting private businesses to build alternative fuel plants in Howard County.  Plants such as a bio-diesel or ethanol are popping up around the country.  This could be a boost to our own farming industry and create needed jobs.  Maryland Bio-diesel recently opened one of 35 such plants in the US and demand has already outstripped supply.  This plant created 5 new jobs.

Not only is this a sensible strategy on Merdon’s part, in an expanded version it can create an economic development opportunity for Howard County.  Given our strategic locaion and access to major roads we could manufacture alternative fuels and get them to market quickly.  We could also boost acceptance of these alternative fuels by adopting use of them in County government operations.


8 Responses to “A Green Howard County”

  1. RHHS07 said

    This is a good post. I talked to my parents about this and they are greenies that were real hippies. I read this blog a lot and this is the first time I had something to say. My parents were impressed but Merdon is not left enough for them to vote for but they are wya left. From what I see he is a real moderate and I hope he wins. I cna’t vote yet, but will as soon as I can.

  2. hocomd said

    Thanks for leaving that post. Merdon has other ideas, but of course you can only get so much into a press release. He believes in renewable energy sources and thinks Government should set an example. He believes in green space and is interested in the feasiblity of linking our green spaces together (county, state, etc). Imagine a trail that connected all of Howard County’s green spaces.

    Howard County should become not only a prime user of but an exporter of renewable energy sources ie: ethenol, bio-diesel, etc.

    Maybe your parents will get a chance to meet Merdon before the election. I think they will be impressed.

  3. Freemarket said

    These are great ideas, but in regards to item #3, if the “fee in lieu” of program is operating at a loss, doesn’t that mean that the fee is too low? In other words, if the combined cost of the trees and the labor to plant them are more than the imposed fee, why would a developer want to plant the trees? The developer would be nuts not to just pay the fee and stick the county with the higher cost of the trees and labor expense to plant them. Wouldn’t Merdon be better off to raise the fee and therefore encourage the developers to do the work of replacing the trees themselves?

  4. Hayduke said

    Although I’m generally supportive of these ideas, the first one gives me pause. Have we reached the point where we are just going to give up on ag preservation? Calling them “excess” funds is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not as if the program’s doing its job so well that there’s more money to spend. There’s left over money because the program has been so ineffective at competing with developers, and gutting it for more parks in the east seems like we’re surrendering to the fact that the west is going to be just as developed as the east, only with bigger, more-spread-out houses.

  5. observer said

    There’s nothing stopping guys like you Hayduke from raising money to assist the county’s preservation efforts. The one guaranteed way to preserve the land is to buy it at market value and dedicate to the county’s open space program, I’m sure if you even came close to market price a lot of property owners would make up the difference. I am sure you would feel quite a bit differently if you owned the land yourself and someone like you felt it should be taken away from you for the purpose of preservation.

  6. hocomd said

    Merdon is committed to fully funding ag pres. Any farm that wants to enter the ag pres program is first in line. I believe he is thinking about raising the fee developers pay to cut down trees.

    I don’t think the County is ever going to pay market prices. Robey could only raise it to $40K and the developers just up the ante.

  7. Dennis said

    I’m reading this article a bit late in the game, but the part about Methane Gas to Electricity generation at Alpha Ridge Landfill caught my attention. I think Ken Ulman examined the idea and determined that the quantity of methane gas produced was not sufficient to create a decent ROI on a landfill gas generation project, as opposed to Prince George’s County, where the Brown Rd station project was wonderfully successful. Prince George’s produces enough gas to backfeed the Waukesha engine generators into the utility grid and pump gas over to the Correction facility to run the boilers.

    On a smaller scale, Alpha Ridge can install converters to capture the methane gas and convert it to methanol, and then sell the methanol to biodiesel producers as one of the components required for biodiesel production.

    Another big issue I’ve been writing about on my blog: Energy waste at Howard County Schools.

    Maryland Green Power Blog

  8. Dennis said

    I think your idea about bio-heat is a fantastic one, but why stop there?

    The fire houses should first try to OFFSET as much heating as possible with Solar Thermal. A MGPC Solahart system could be used to pre-heat the water going into the boiler, significantly reducing the amount of fuel needed for heating.

    Solahart makes water heaters with no moving parts, using the Thermosiphon principle as shown on this blog:

    As far as building a biodiesel plant in Howard County, I looked into it a couple years ago. At the time there were no M3 Heavy Industrial Zones in Howard County (most likely a good thing!) Due to the chemicals used to produce biodiesel, M2 or M3 zoning is necessary. I was not confident of getting permitting in the M2 zones.

    Yes, a biodiesel plant will create 4-5 jobs, but will also greatly increase truck traffic, put a burden on the sewer system (if water wash is chosen over magnesium) and necessitate transport and storage of potentially explosive, volatile, poisonous liquids like methanol (can be quickly absorbed through skin in lethal doses.)

    Let’s keep Howard County as a residential / commercial, family-friendly community and leave heavy industry to areas better prepared to deal with these matters.

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