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First trash-to-energy project nears completion at landfill

John Seelmeyer

When a guy somewhere in northern Nevada turns on his coffeemaker a few weeks from now, he’ll be using electricity generated from a byproduct of the decomposition of the used coffee filter he tossed in the trash earlier this year.

Waste Management is nearing completion of a plant at its Lockwood Landfill east of Sparks that will use methane gas produced by decomposing garbage inside the landfill to drive two electrical-generation units.

And a much-larger garbage-to-energy facility at the Lockwood Landfill is just over the horizon.

When the methane-to-power facility that’s nearing completion comes on line, it will generate about 3.2 megawatts of electricity enough to provide power to more than 1,900 homes in the region.

And the facility is even more valuable than the raw production numbers would indicate, says Mark Severts, a spokesman for NV Energy.

Unlike other renewable-power facilities such as solar photovoltaic arrays or wind farms, the generators at the Lockwood plant will hum 24 hours a day, no matter what the weather might be doing.

NV Energy has contracted to buy the power produced by the landfill facility for the next 20 years. The power will help the utility meet regulatory requirements that at least 25 percent of its production come from renewable sources by 2025.

The methane that will drive the power plant’s generators currently is burned off.

The facility is being built by T.V. John & Son Inc., a company from Butler, Wis., that has been busy with similar generation plants around the country.

John Paczkowski, site superintendent for T.V. John & Son at the Lockwood job, says the only hang-up on the job that started in June has been the delayed arrival of some big electrical switching systems.

Assuming those arrive within the next weeks, the facility should be energized in December in preparation for extensive tests before it’s turned over to Waste Management for commercial operation.

Waste Management, in turn, will be monitoring the facility closely to see if its plans to add at least one more generating unit make sense. That would boost the plant’s production by another 1.6 megawatts. A fourth unit also is a possibility.

William Carr, an engineer with Waste Management, said that the company has been installing the methane-to-power systems at enough of its landfills that the process is becoming routine.

Still, he said, every installation is a little different.

The arid northern Nevada climate, for instance, means the Lockwood Landfill produces less methane than similar facilities in the Pacific Northwest, where more moisture is available for decomposing garbage below the surface of the landfill.

A system of wells and gathering pipes throughout the giant Lockwood Landfill gather methane and deliver it to the new generating facility.

Any remaining moisture in the gas is wrung out through a compression process, and the gas powers 20-cylinder, 1,605-horsepower units made by Caterpillar.

Because the units run at fairly low speeds about 1,200 revolutions per minute they’re expected to run almost trouble-free 24/7 for 10 years, says Paczkowski.

One employee, well-wired into the plant’s monitoring systems, will oversee its operation.

Construction employed about 30 at its peak, and about 10 workers remained on the site last week.

In the meantime, Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif., continues to move toward construction of a $180 million plant at the Lockwood Landfill to convert municipal waste into 10 million gallons of ethanol annually.

The company has filed a registration statement to sell $115 million in stock to the public, a cornerstone of its plan to develop the plant in Storey County.

Fulcrum also is seeking loan guarantees from the federal Department of Energy to help finance the plant.

And Barrick Goldstrike Mines Inc., will pony up $10 million toward the plant’s construction in exchange for a portion of the renewable-energy tax credits that will be created by the project.

In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Fulcrum says it expects to begin construction of the plant before the end of this year, with completion in 2013.

The company notes, however, that investors face risks because Fulcrum has yet to generate any revenue, and its technology has yet to be fully proven.

Fluor Corporation is contracted to design and build the facility, which will be known as Sierra BioGas. Fulcrum has acquired 17 acres for the facility, and it says permits are in place to begin construction.

The company has contracted to receive the municipal solid waste that provides the plant’s feedstock for free from Waste Management and Waste Connections Inc.

Tenaska Biofuels of Omaha has contracted to market the ethanol produced by Sierra BioGas within its first three years of production.