Dane County, Wisconsin Eyeing Landfill Gas to Energy System Upgrade

By Arlene Karidis, Waste 360.

Wisconsin’s Dane County has made electricity from waste for the local utility for decades, but may soon shift to a new plan—new to Dane and novel for the disposal niche at large. The county board is considering an $18 million upgrade to produce pipeline quality gas for the grid.

It’s hard to say how the project will pencil out financially because of an uncertain regulatory environment and energy market price fluctuations. So the county is taking a long look before spending the approved $18 million for the gas cleanup technology and pipeline injection equipment that would enable it to tap into an interstate pipeline. But it is anything but risk adverse, says John Welch, solid waste manager at Dane County Public Works.

Depending on the market, there could be a complete return on the investment within five years, and then the county could start turning a profit. On its current contract, the utility is losing money, with a bigger hit anticipated if it is renewed at its current terms.

“Our agreement with the utility ends in two years and we will be offered 3.5 or 4 cents per kilowatt rather than 7 or 9 cents. It costs us about 3.5 cents per kilowatt to produce the power,” Welch says. “And while capital costs vary, they are generally several million dollars.”

The biggest payback to upgrade would likely come from two sources: the value from federally allocated renewable energy credits, known as RINs (renewal identification number), and revenue from selling fuel to companies that own compressed natural gas (CNG) stations.