Monday, April 22, 2024

NHC explores converting landfill waste to renewable energy, netting $1M to county annually

County commissioners will consider a contract to convert the New Hanover County landfill methane outputs into renewable natural gas. (PCD?/file).

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — County commissioners will consider a contract to convert the New Hanover County landfill methane outputs into renewable natural gas, an environmentally friendly process that will generate more revenue for the county. 

NHC Director of Recycling & Solid Waste Joe Suleyman spoke in favor of the contract at the commissioners’ Thursday agenda briefing meeting, describing it as the most exciting project he’s seen in his tenure.

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“Yesterday’s grandma’s leftover lasagna could be, you know, heating your water tomorrow, so we’re really excited,” Suleyman said. 

Landfill gas is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material in landfills. It’s composed of roughly equal parts methane and carbon dioxide, two greenhouse gasses that trap heat in earth’s atmosphere and contribute to global warming in large quantities — although methane captures more heat.

“We’re taking a greenhouse gas that’s 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, taking that and converting it into a renewable resource that can be marketed for folks that have homes or businesses that are hooked up to natural gas,” Suleyman said. 

After reviewing five bids, Suleyman found a contract with Archaea Energy, a BP subsidiary, to be the most suitable to the county. The contract would offer $300,000 in fixed annual payments to the county, increasing with the Consumer Price Index. The county would also receive variable payments based on amounts of extracted gas. 

As long as the gas meets quality standards, it would generate $3.08 per 1 million British thermal units. Based on staff estimates, the deal could net the county $900,000 to $1.3 million per year. 

The contract with Archaea would last 20 years, with two five-year extensions available. Upon execution of the agreement, the company would need to construct a facility at its own expense, including a connection to the Piedmont Natural Gas’ pipeline along U.S. Highway 421. 

“This is wonderful news,” commissioner Rob Zapple said during the Thursday meeting. 

Upon an agreement, Suleyman added the county will need to provide Archaea with 2 acres of an 8-acre parcel fronting Highway 421. Recycling and Solid Waste will also move its administrative operations there. 

He added the project will be disruptive during the two-year construction period. 

“They have to work together and play nice in the same sandbox,” Suleyman said. “I don’t see any issues with that.” 

As commissioner Zapple pointed out, the contract also predicts an increase in subsidence, or caving or sinking soil, in the pipeline area. Suleyman replied someone will need to regularly inspect the facility for evidence of that erosion; if any is found, the department will need to haul in sand to fix the problem. Those care costs, to be the county’s responsibility, are baked into the contract with Archaea. 

Not only will the revenue generation cover financial shortfalls at the landfill, it will use generated methane toward renewable energy instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States at approximately 14.5 percent of these emissions in 2020. That’s equivalent to about 20.3 million passenger vehicles driven for one year or the CO2 emissions from nearly 11.9 million homes’ energy use for one year.

The generated natural gas from this landfill process can be used not only for electricity, but also vehicle fuel, industrial power and craftsman’s boilers. 

The county commissioners will consider approving the contract at their meeting on Monday, April 3, at 4 p.m. in the assembly room, room 301, at New Hanover County Courthouse, 24 N. Third St. 

[Update: Commissioners approved the contract at the meeting.]

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at 

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