Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Ian Kennedy Makes Me Work Too Hard

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, January 12, 2007

Hayduke picked up on this from comments on my blog and at the HCCA list server regarding landfill methane to electricity.  Not that we are far apart on this issue, but I feel complelled to provide more details in order to make my point clearer.  He did this to me on tax cuts too.  The tax discussion was good discussion.  This one should be too.

For starters I have written about this before.  Below is an excerpt.

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.

Hayduke went into more detail than I provided on the HCCA website.  The links I provided were high level overviews of the potential such a project has at Alpha Ridge landfill.  They were by no means conclusive.  They suggest further review is in order.

Knowing that Ulman has many competing priorities I am not about to run him down for passing on methane to electricity.  However, I would like him to discuss this further with other experts.

The EPA lists a number of candidate landfill sites in the State of Maryland for treatment of methane gas.  Ian says that the only necessary qualificaiton for inclusion as a candidate site is the presence of a landfill.  Howard County has 2 landfills and only Alpha Ridge is on the EPA list.  Alpha Ridge is almost 1/2 the size of Brown Station in Prince George County which has been wildly successful in this effort.  In the entire State only 9 landfills make the list.  I think the EPA did more due diligence than Ian gives them credit for.

Granted the methane production is declining at Alpha Ridge and he rightly points out that a cost benefit anaylsis would be the only means of truly knowing the realistic opportunities at Alpha Ridge.  Look, Prince George’s saves a lot of money ($1.2M per year) and generates revenue ($480K per year).  Do we have the kind of potential?  Probably not.  That is all I am asking for the County to do on this.  I am asking for a third opinion.

I don’t know enough about the future plans for Alpha Ridge, or another future landfill in Howard County, and I did not know that we ship trash to King George.  I wonder, are we producing more trash than Alpha can handle?  That could be the reason it will be closing soon – according to the EPA it will close in 2008.  That could also be the reason our mmscfd are low in comparison – we don’t feed it enough trash.  It could be that the mmscfd are so low after 2007 because the formula used suggests we won’t be adding trash after 2008.  Can anyone verify that and tell us what we will do with our trash then?  Do we have plans to build a new landfill?

A cost benefit analysis would include the cost to ship our trash else where, revenue generated by selling the electricity to BGE, or using it ourselves, construction of generators and a pipeline and operational costs, planting wells (although we do this anyway for burn off).

Finally, keep in mind that Howard County doesn’t have to do this itself.  There are private enterprises that will come in and look at the opportunity/potential.  If potential exists and it is worth the investment they will proceed and pay the County  for the use of the landfill – NASA does this in Prince George County.


7 Responses to “Ian Kennedy Makes Me Work Too Hard”

  1. bsflag2007 said

    “Finally, keep in mind that Howard County doesn’t have to do this itself. There are private enterprises that will come in and look at the opportunity/potential. If potential exists and it is worth the investment they will proceed and pay the County for the use of the landfill”

    This is a concept that Mr. Ulman could use to great effect not only for the methane/landfill but for others as well – and so could HCPSS/BOE.

    The “customer” doesn’t have to pay for every feasibility study and proposal. Granted some independent review or professional advice down the line before making commitments is wise (think sms) –

    but when “ideas” are dismissed because “we” can’t afford to investigate or study the issue — we should let others do the preliminaries.

    Cindy V.

  2. Hayduke said

    As I said in my post, I consider the fact that Howard County doesn’t have a corporate partner for the methane energy production a sign that the potential for it to even break even is not there. HoCo went to the methane conference four years ago with marketing materials in hand and yet we still don’t have any takers. Seems to me the premilinaries are already done.

  3. Ian,

    You seem to have better information than me on this. I defer to you on this topic. What do you know about the future of Alpha Ridge and any potential new landfills in Howard County? Can a new landfill be developed with methane capture in mind?


  4. Hayduke said

    On the Alpha Ridge website it appears that there is the potential to develop another 80 acres (the landfill currently uses 110 of the 190 potential landfill acreage, of a total for the AR site of 600). I’m guessing that since most of our trash is being shipped elsewhere, it is not economically efficient to expand AR. I’m not sure what the potential methane production of that additional 80 acres would be, but it would have to be enough to offset the costs of creating new “lined cells” and the methane to energy equipment.

  5. FreeMarket said

    As part of his analysis, I hope Ulman makes an effort to reach out to private businesses to get their opinion. I remember from looking at the campaign finance database that some owners of a private waste transfer station contributed to Ulman’s campaign, so I am sure they like him enough to at least talk about this. Even if they can’t help, I am sure they know some local people in the industry who can.

  6. Thanks for the link. Yeah. Looks like Howard County will be looking for a new landfill site soon.

    From 1980-1993, the initial unlined area of 70 acres received 2.3 million tons of waste.

    If 70 acres will last 13 years then we probably have less than 15 years of usable life left in Alpha Ridge.

  7. bsflag2007 said

    It sounds like the private sector is well aware of this “opportunity” and HoCo is not beating off suitors with a stick.

    While sad for those who would like to see more happening – I am pleased to have the effort made.

    Hayduke is clearly right on top of this issue – and I will take his word that “enough” has been done to evaluate the options.

    On other issues the question of how much is enough is not as clear.

    For example – I have been a longtime advocate for the HCPSS to more aggressively seek grant money and private funding/partnerships. It seems every time it is mentioned – a statement comes down along the lines of “oh yes, we have a person who helps teachers apply for grants….” like that is the “definitive answer”.

    The teachers have to initiate the application, and do all the substantive “work” – with the “assistance” of this individual. That is certainly “better than nothing” but not really the same as “aggressively seeking” a share of the enormous grant and private funding pie.

    I’m looking forward to HoCo becoming more aggressive in actively seeking opportunities to offset public project costs and hopefully increase creativity.
    Cindy V.

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