Watauga County’s gas-to-energy landfill project wins EPA award
By Karen Olson House
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized Watauga County's Landfill Gas-To-Energy Project for excellence in innovation and for achieving environmental and economic benefits.
Watauga County's 186-kilowatt pilot project generates electricity by burning methane-rich gas extracted from a small, once-closed landfill in Boone. It creatively employs two retrofitted automotive internal combustion engines, and, according to the EPA, this technology had previously been used only to destroy methane from coal mine gas. The project was among seven in the U.S. recognized at the EPA's annual Landfill Methane Outreach Program Conference, held Jan. 29–31.
The county enlisted help from many local sources. Appalachian State University's Energy Center assisted with project management support, including student and faculty research and waste heat utilization design. Blue Ridge Electric, one of North Carolina's electric cooperatives, also provided technical assistance from the project's earliest stages. "Our staff has provided many services, including helping the county develop a test plan, commissioning the unit and making sure everything is working properly," said Mike High, director of engineering services at the co-op. In particular, Blue Ridge Electric's engineering manager Ralph Seamon spent much time serving in a technical advisor capacity, from the project's start-up to seeing it successfully operational, High added.
The county began the endeavor as a voluntary effort in 2005 — now the internationally acclaimed project hosts visitors from as far away as Brazil and Eastern Europe. It sells its electricity to Duke Energy and green power credits to NC GreenPower. Over its life, the project is expected to provide the county an annual profit of up to $72,000 and reduce landfill electricity costs by up to 80 percent.