Despite some concern among Anchorage Assembly members, plans are moving ahead to spin Anchorage's garbage gas into electricity.
Doyon Utilities LLC wants to provide power to the military base with electricity generated from the methane gas that seeps in large quantities from the Anchorage Regional Landfill just off the Glenn Highway at the Hiland Road exit.
The Anchorage Assembly on May 26 approved spending a $2 million state energy grant on the new gas-to-energy project in a 7-3 decision.
The money comes from an Alaska Energy Authority renewable energy grant and can pay only for construction. Doyon will operate the facility and buy the gas produced for the next 20 years under the terms of the agreement with the municipality. The contract also includes two 10-year option periods.
In return, Doyon will compensate the city for the gas it uses. At today's gas prices, the money coming back to the city could range from $1.3 million to $1.5 million a year, according to the city's solid waste services director, Mark Madden.
"By taking that huge amount of methane out of our emissions, it's good for the environment and on top of that we do get a fairly nice benefit of getting electricity out of it and revenue," Madden said. "It's a green project in more ways than one."
The city's solid waste department started researching beneficial ways to use the gas back in 2004. Like any place where garbage especially organic stuff like food waste or grass clippings decomposes without much oxygen around, the landfill generates methane. Landfill managers have to get rid of it because methane is a greenhouse gas but it's also potentially explosive and can't be allowed to migrate to surrounding homes or businesses.
Since 2006, Solid Waste Services has burned off landfill methane in a 40-foot tower on the northwest side of the property.
Now Doyon plans to make use of the more than 1,000 cubic feet of gas generated at the landfill every minute.
Doyon's plans call for a three-part facility, according to a memo provided to the Assembly: a gas-processing system to clean and process raw landfill gas; a transportation and storage pipeline to move the treated gas from the processing facility to an electric power plant; and a power-generation plant located next to the landfill at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Doyon provides utility service to JBER, as well as Fort Wainwright and Fort Greely. The 2007 utilities privatization contract that turned those systems over to Doyon Utilities was the largest utility privatization contract ever awarded by the U.S. military to date, according to the company's Web site.
Doyon Utilities consists of co-owners Doyon Properties Inc., a subsidiary of Doyon Limited, and Fairbanks Sewer & Water Inc., a subsidiary of Inland Pacific Resources, Inc.
Several Assembly members, including Eagle River's Bill Starr, had hoped to postpone the vote on the agreement with Doyon. Jennifer Johnston and Adam Trombley also voiced hesitation. Johnston worried that the municipality would be on the hook if the landfill didn't have enough gas for the life of the project.
Starr wanted to postpone a decision to allow more time for another potential bidder who wanted to use the methane to power city buses.
That bidder told municipal officials the company planned to file a complaint about the bidding process but did not meet a May 25 deadline to do so, officials said.
A vote to postpone the vote on the Doyon project did not pass, also in a 7-3 decision.
"This project has been on the table for a very long time," said Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson, who represents Midtown. "I'm really happy to see some renewable energy in our community."
There are more than 500 similar projects registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The landfill, which opened in 1987, has the capacity to hold 40 million cubic yards of waste and is about one-third full now, Madden said during an interview. It is expected to reach capacity around the year 2045.
Zaz Hollander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 694-2727, Ext. 213.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 1, 2011.