Back in April, DeKalb County accepted a $7.83 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy to put toward the conversion of raw landfill gas to renewable natural gas.
Once completed, this project could save the county millions in fuel costs for its fleet. In 2008, when there was a spike in fuel costs nationwide, the county’s sanitation department spent $4.5 million to fuel its fleet.
“We hope to cut that in half in time,” said Billy Malone, the assistant director for DeKalb’s sanitation department. “And if we had another spike, it wouldn’t affect us.”
Compressed natural gas (CNG), a type of renewable natural gas used in engines, is 10 times quieter and its emissions are 90 percent better, Malone said. Use of the fuel also decreases the dependence on foreign oil and places it on a product made in DeKalb County.
The project could also bring in $1.8 million annually through the sale of surplus gas, using current fuel rates.
Now eight months after receiving the award, the county has not spent a penny on the project, and it is running out of time to get the stimulus money. County officials want the project to be ready to go by Dec. 31, 2011, but bidders on the contract say it will take about 12-13 months to make that happen.
About $4.1 million in of the American Recovery Reinvestment Act stimulus award will be added to $6.6 million in matching county funds for the project. But there’s a catch: the county has to fund the $10.7 million project on its own and get the $4.1 million federal money as a reimbursement. The deadline to turn in the paperwork to get the reimbursement is March 2012.
The rest of the $3.8 million in stimulus funds would be used to convert 40 sanitation department vehicles to compressed natural gas, retrofit the county’s fleet management division’s repair shops for maintenance of CNG vehicles, and construct public CNG fueling stations at the county’s Seminole Road landfill in Ellenwood and at the corner of Kensington and Memorial Drive. Currently, there is only one public CNG station in the state–Whitehall Street in Atlanta.
The county is considering a plan to build its own system to convert the landfill gas to renewable natural gas with the ability to pipe much of the gas into the natural gas pipeline maintained by Atlanta Gas Light. This pipeline supplies natural gas to two million customers in Georgia. The top bid for the construction is from Energy Systems Group, of Atlanta.
“When this was presented to us, this was presented as a great accomplishment,” said commissioner Jeff Rader. “We were able to partner with the federal government to develop this infrastructure on DeKalb County land at a facility that would be generating the feed stock for this process for up to 100 years.”
Muddying the waters is a last-minute bid from Jacoby Energy Development, of Atlanta, which wants to construct a 5-mile pipeline from Seminole landfill to the Live Oak landfill, located in Conley.
Jacoby’s proposal is to process the landfill gas in a facility the company pays for. Jacoby would then pump gas to Live Oak where it would be converted to RNG. Jacoby would pay the county the current New York Mercantile Exchange prices for natural gas after deducting operation and maintenance costs and amortization of the capital costs. The Jacoby contract would only be for 20 years.
If the county uses this plan it would lose the federal stimulus money because it would be a major deviation from the agreement for the money’s use, Malone said. There were 110 applications for the stimulus funds, but only 24 municipalities received the funding.
Rader said there may be a way for the county to build its processing facility and still allow Jacoby to pump gas to the Live Oak landfill.
“There’s plenty of gas to go around,” said Rader.