Sustainability: Landfill Gas Electricity

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The Waste Management Northwest Regional Landfill is producing 3.2 Megawatts of electricity for APS. Located in Surprise, the facility is producing enough electricity from landfill gases to power 2,000 homes. Scott Bradley, Waste Management Four Corners Area Vice President, will discuss the power-producing landfill.

Ted Simons: Tonight's "Focus on Sustainability" looks at the Waste Management Northwest Regional Landfill which is producing electricity from landfill gases for APS. Here to explain is Scott Bradley, waste management's 4-Corners area vice president. Good to have you here.

Scott Bradley: Great to be here, thanks for the invite.

Ted Simons: This is a landfill producing power for APS, explain, please.

Scott Bradley: Your everyday household garbage is picked up in a truck out to the landfill. Landfill garbage decomposes anaerobically without oxygen, creating methane and carbon dioxide. We harvest the gas, if you will, with a series of wells hooked up to a vacuum system, to take it to a place where it's scrubbed and cleaned. It is used as fuel to run, for lack of a better word, a couple of big turbine engines. They produce electricity which we put into the grid and sell to APS.

Ted Simons: How much power are we talking about here?

Scott Bradley: 3.2 megawatts.

Ted Simons: And that equates to how many homes?

Scott Bradley: About 2,000 homes a year, it's pretty substantial.

Ted Simons: As far as offsetting other forms of energy, are we talking coal here, what else is being talked about?

Scott Bradley: Anything you want to talk about. Coal is the most frequently used terminology. Yeah, we are, you know, alleviating some need for that. Obviously, we're not replacing in total that need, but it's a piece of a renewable energy portfolio that APS has that we're proud to be a part of.

Ted Simons: I understand it's delivered through a PPA, power purchase agreement. Explain what that is.

Scott Bradley: If you produce power, you can sell it to an electrical outlet like that, like an APS, in whatever state or place you are. They are obligated to buy it from you. Obviously not at the price you might like to get it for, but you negotiate that price and it works out. They have been a great partner. They view it as part of their renewable energy portfolio, which we like because it adds to our sustainability footprint.

Ted Simons: Overall benefits of something like this, what do you see?

Scott Bradley: Nobody -- not everybody, outside of folks like me and my company, necessarily like a landfill. It's a necessity right now in our world, so we're creating something that's pretty cool and pretty beneficial out of something that otherwise would not be used, and might be, you know, something that someone might think of as negative. That is a positive coming out of that, for sure.

Ted Simons: Indeed. I would imagine the EPA doesn't have too many concerns here, do they?

Scott Bradley: No, it's great. Otherwise, this gas would really be vented out into the atmosphere, might be flared or burned. We've found something to do with this gas that is of great benefit to folks.

Ted Simons: As far as the energy is concerned when you're talking wind and sun, you're not talking what you're doing. This is there, no matter if the wind or the sun is there.

Scott Bradley: It is a very reliable source of energy for the time in the life of that facility, that the gas is being produced. It's not affected by weather, it's constant, it's there, it's produced.

Ted Simons: Is it an economic alternative?

Scott Bradley: It's getting better. There's -- I won't lie to you, there's a lot of tax credits from the federal government that have allowed a lot of these projects to get off the ground. But you know, it's -- you're going do something, flare this gas, let it vent. It's a great alternative. The government, much like with the solar industry, have helped prop it up to start. It gets better and better each year in terms of its economics.

Ted Simons: This landfill is in Surprise, correct?

Scott Bradley: It's outside, kind of northwest of Surprise.

Ted Simons: Northwest of Surprise. Is this the only landfill in the valley, in the state, in the area doing this?

Scott Bradley: It is our only one in the state of Arizona. I think there are two others within the greater Phoenix area. I think the City of Glendale has a facility, and the Indian tribe off Scottsdale off the 101.

Ted Simons: Fort McDowell. You can see the flares out there, as well.

Scott Bradley: Yeah, yeah.

Ted Simons: Is technology advancing for this kind of thing? Can it get better? Can you transfer more of this methane gas?

Scott Bradley: I think methane gas is only a certain part of the gas produced in decomposing trash. I think we do a pretty good job of getting the maximum out of it that can be gotten. We'll always enhance the engines as they go forth in life to produce more power from that same amount of gas.

Ted Simons: And do you see more of these kinds of landfills and operations in Arizona?

Scott Bradley: Absolutely, absolutely.

Ted Simons: From Waste Management?

Scott Bradley: We've got some other landfills -- it's a little drier climate here, so it doesn't produce gas quite like they might on the East Coast or where there's more moisture, but it does eventually. We have some other landfills we'll probably end up with a similar facility like this in the future.

Ted Simons: But I would imagine technology, where it is now, there are limits to how much power that can be produced.

Scott Bradley: Sure, sure. And there's a limit to the life of the gas produced out of the landfill, too. It's a finite resource, but one that is certainly supplementing natural resources right now.

Ted Simons: Is the city of Surprise involved much with this?

Scott Bradley: Not with this project, but they are an extremely great host to us. We're, I think, a valued member of their community, and we have a great partnership with the city of Surprise.

Ted Simons: As far as landfill technology, getting away from the power aspect, what does this do to the stuff in the landfill itself? Does it change its composition? Is it easier to deal with, more difficult to deal with? What happens once the methane and other gases go away?

Scott Bradley: Once the decomposition stops and the gases go away, what you've got is a bunch of inert material at that point. No more bacteria being generated by the decomposition. It's just kind of a static pile that, you know, 500 years from now, if we're around, they will be back digging up those facilities I'll guarantee you, look for other resources that someone decides at that point are valuable to go find. That's the future.

Ted Simons: And as far as the future with Waste Management and these kinds of projects, we can expect to see more in Arizona?

Scott Bradley: Yes, I believe so, yes.

Ted Simons: All right. Well, congratulations on the project, sounds interesting and it's nice to know a landfill is serving more than one purpose.

Scott Bradley: Indeed.

Ted Simons: Good to have you.

Scott Bradley: Appreciate it.

Scott Bradley:Vice President, Waste Management Four Corners Area;

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