From: James D. McWilliams, The State, Columbia, S.C.
Published September 27, 2005 12:00 AM

Trash, Waste Are Newest Fuel Sources

Santee Cooper is turning trash into treasure by collecting methane gas produced in landfills and burning the gas to generate electricity.

Part of that power will come from an $8 million power plant the utility is building on 123 acres at the Richland County landfill in Elgin, said spokeswoman Laura Varn. That plant, which will be able to produce 5.5 megawatts of electricity at one time, is scheduled to start operation Feb. 28.

The Elgin plant is one of multiple landfill projects around the state, representing a $26.1 million investment by Santee Cooper, company officials said. Another 5.5-megawatt plant is being constructed in Anderson. The $7 million plant will start operating in May, Varn said.

In April, the company opened an $8.5 million,5.4-megawatt station in Lee County.

The utility will be able to generate nearly 20 megawatts daily from the gas produced as trash decays, utility officials said.

Santee Cooper became the first utility in South Carolina to generate power from landfill gas in September 2001 at the Horry County landfill near Conway.

Decomposition happens almost immediately after garbage is buried, so methane collection can begin as soon as a landfill section hits capacity and is covered. Still, landfill methane provides just a small percentage of Santee Cooper's overall output and the utility does not make much money on it.

However, there are strong environmental incentives for tapping landfill methane. The gas would otherwise escape into the atmosphere where it is 20 times more dangerous than the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection.

Methane contributes to global warming, but, if converted to electricity, it can help curb some of the most severe damage to the atmosphere, the EPA said.

Santee Cooper also has considered harvesting methane fuel from animal excrement collected from farms, Varn said.

North Carolina State University has worked for five years on a project with Smithfield Foods and Premium Standard Farms to generate energy from methane-rich pig droppings.

Animal-waste has been used as a power source at many farms nationally for 30 years, said Leonard Bull, associate director of the Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center at N.C. State.

But Santee Cooper currently has not found a large enough supplier to make the technology economically viable in South Carolina, Varn said.

"The amount of waste needed would be extensive," she said.

Knight Ridder Newspapers contributed to this report.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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