People touring a new facility that converts methane gas into electricity might have been turned off by the dreary weather Tuesday morning, but the microbes making the needed methane loved it.
The microbes converting decaying landfill trash into methane function best in moist environments, PPL Renewable Energy President Mike Kroboth explained.
The methane they make is now being used to power homes and businesses in the Borough of Chambersburg. A four-mile “extension cord” carries electricity generated at the IESI Blue Ridge Landfill in Greene Township, Pa., to the nearby borough.
“The Blue Ridge project is now providing 15 percent of our electric needs at a significant cost savings,” said William McLaughlin, Chambersburg Town Council president.
IESI, PPL Renewable Energy and the Borough of Chambersburg hosted a ceremonial flipping of a power switch Tuesday to highlight the landfill’s power generation. The landfill started supplying power for Chambersburg in January.
“This is a true example of taking something from the waste disposal process and making it something useful,” said Vito Galante, regional vice president for IESI.
A PPL Renewable Energy spokesman would not divulge the cost for the methane plant, but he said similar facilities have cost about $15 million. The Borough of Chambersburg spent $2 million for its power line they affectionately call the extension cord.
Chambersburg has been in the utilities business for 130 years, and the town council has an entrepreneurial spirit, McLaughlin said. The town owns and operates its own water, sewer, gas and electric systems, and is believed to be the only Pennsylvania municipality doing so.
“We believe we should invest in our future, not mortgage it. Chambersburg is proud of our environmental initiatives,” McLaughlin said, saying those initiatives include nutrient reduction efforts at the wastewater treatment plant and natural gas fueling station development.
State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, commended the Chambersburg Town Council on its programs.
“They’re always thinking,” he said. “They’ve always got a new idea how to make things better.”
“This is an exciting part of the state right now,” said C. Alan Walker, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
The 6.4-megawatt power generation system in Greene Township can generate up to 50 million kilowatt-hours per year of electricity, meaning it can produce enough electricity to power 4,000 homes, according to information provided by PPL Renewable Energy.
If the landfill ceased taking in new garbage today, the trash already there would continue producing methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, for 10 years, according to Matt Strine, a supervisor with PPL Renewable Energy.
Kauffman, a resident of Greene Township, said he’s seen a flame from the landfill burning methane for years. Now, the gas will only be burned if the conversion system is down for maintenance.
Chambersburg has about 40,000 electric customers, Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill said.