Gaston County green energy project relies on Rutherford EMC’s role
By Karen Olson House
Rutherford EMC has been helping Gaston County in a landfill project that turns a greenhouse gas into valuable energy. The county's landfill, located north of Dallas, produces methane gas as its solid waste decomposes. Gaston County uses large-engine generators at its Renewable Energy Center, located near the landfill, to turn the gas into electricity. The $7.5 million center began commercial operation last August. It was funded through the county's solid waste enterprise fund, low-interest bonds from the federal stimulus program and a state energy grant.
Rutherford EMC is contracted with the county to transport, or wheel, the electricity to its point of delivery with Duke Power, which is buying the power. Currently, the electricity produced is roughly enough to power more than 1,600 average-sized homes yearly.
"The folks at Rutherford EMC have been exceptional in working on this project," said Ray Maxwell, Gaston County public works director. "They've been very helpful and responsive." Tom Haire, system engineer at Rutherford EMC, called the agreement a win-win for the county and the co-op. Haire once worked "on the generator side of things" at Santee Cooper, a state-owned electric utility in South Carolina, and said his master's thesis research on interconnection of distributed generation also came in handy in running studies and determining any necessary upgrades.
Two of the Renewable Energy Center's three GE/Jenbacher generators (1.4 megawatts each) operate full-time. When gas production increases, the county will bring the third engine online fulltime. Total buildout of the facility is five generators. Future plans for the center include an industrial park. Ideal tenants are those that need waste heat, methane gas or organic waste for their work purposes.
Rutherford EMC is based in Forest City and serves more than 67,300 members in Rutherford, McDowell, Polk, Cleveland, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Lincoln, Gaston and Mitchell counties.