Published: Feb 01, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Jan 31, 2012 08:07 PM
It was April 11, 2010, when Orange County Solid Waste Director Gayle Wilson was quoted that "tens of millions, in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars" would be needed to pay for a kind of technology to almost eliminate landfills and yet this technology was already operating in comparable size counties like the one encompassing Cedar Rapids, Iowa.Called plasma arc gasification, Wilson was exaggerating its costs, although our county would be forced to team up with Durham and Wake counties and maybe other counties to implement and operate plasma arc gasification because the overall expenses would run at least $110 million for such a process.
But in the meantime another much cheaper solid waste technology offers a far better choice for the Orange County landfill. This process is anaerobic digestion, and today's anaerobic digesters are much more efficient and effective. Our county processes about 50,000 tons of waste annually. This matches the amount of waste necessary to pay for the costs of running the digester.
Our neighboring state of South Carolina is moving ahead with its anaerobic digester in Columbia, where 48,000 tons of waste are handled every year. The city of Columbia has selected the company W2E Organic Power, and the permit has been issued. The digester will process feedstocks that will include pre and postconsumer food wastes from all businesses and restaurants as well as homes. Grease and yard trimmings are in the mix, too. Columbia's estimated costs are $12 million.
Orange County's Solid Waste Advisory Board evaluated digesters about three years ago and found them to generate about 50 percent methane. But today's anaerobic digesters can produce 75 percent methane compared with about 85 percent methane from natural gas.
Now that UNC's Energy Services Director Raymond DuBose is overseeing the project that started last summer, the turning of landfill gas into methane and then into electricity for the new Carolina North satellite campus is already under way. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. DuBose last summer while the large hole in the ground was being dug under Eubanks Road This pipeline will carry methane gas from the existing landfill to the Carolina North campus and nearby existing university buildings. The university earns federal offset credits for this project.
As for the $12 million cost, the county commissioners could approve tax-exempt bonds for the upcoming August 2012 bond issuance plan or maybe successfully seek a federal or state loan with a scheduled payback method based on the savings as they're being generated.Finally, we could build the anaerobic digester next to the existing landfill, while collecting landfill gas at the same time, as opposed to building the new transfer station on land that is one of the primary gateways to Chapel Hill. Then we could thank Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton for his interest, who's been such a good mayor that he ran unopposed in his last election. But the last thing I can handle is any more delay from next year's deadline for the closing of the landfill, a promise that has been broken at least five times since the mid-1990s.
Jeff Kingan lives in a far north home in Carrboro, where his spouse and he are grateful for the county completely redoing their well in a very conscientious and cost-free manner so they can now drink their water free of E. coli.