After DeKalb’s chief executive officer had to be called in to break an unprecedented tie vote, the county’s board of commissioners approved a plan to harvest compressed natural gas from its Seminole landfill.
The county will go forward with using a $7.83 million grant from the Department of Energy to convert raw landfill gas to renewable natural gas.
“This project is of considerable significance,” said Commissioner Jeff Rader. “This is our great opportunity to participate in a green revolution.”
The commissioners’ vote solidifies plans 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. Energy Systems Group, based in Indiana and with offices in Atlanta, will construct the facility.
The DeKalb grant is part of $14.9 million awarded to the Clean Cities Atlanta Coalition, made up of DeKalb County, Atlanta, Coca-Cola, College Park, UPS, PS Energy Group, the Partnership for Clean Transportation and Sustainable Atlanta.
“The goals are to increase the supply of alternative fuels…and to reduce our reliance on petroleum fuels,” said Steve Clermont, director of Evergreen Sustainability Solutions for Center for Transportation & the Environment.
“It is unique that DeKalb has this landfill natural resource,” said Rader, who voted for the proposal along with Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Stan Watson. “The state of Georgia has no oil wells. We in DeKalb County have a landfill that is generating natural gas.”
Gannon said the landfill has been a source of complaints for years, but the landfill gas project is an opportunity to do something positive with that resource.
“The long-term benefits are clear for DeKalb County to own, to process, and to fuel our fleets with this grant,” Gannon said.
Commissioners Elaine Boyer, Lee May and Sharon Barnes Sutton voted against the project, while Commissioner Larry Johnson abstained from voting, causing a tie that was broken by Burrell Ellis, the county’s chief executive officer.
“I think this is the worst proposal I have seen in a long time to come across my desk,” Boyer said.
“I don’t want to be in the fuel business,” Boyer said. “I don’t think that’s the government’s role.”
The plan, which was years in the making, was nearly derailed by an unsolicited proposal for using the landfill gas. Commissioners complained that the last-minute proposal was brought to the table without going through proper procedures and, while it seemed attractive, did not contain enough data for an informed decision to be made.
The late bid came from Jacoby Energy Development of Atlanta, which intended to construct a five-mile pipeline from Seminole landfill to the Live Oak landfill in Conley. Jacoby would then process the landfill gas and pump it to Live Oak where it would be converted to RNG. Jacoby proposed to 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 have been for 20 years.
“Both proposals are green,” Watson said.
The Seminole landfill, located in Ellenwood, was opened in 1977 and has a life expectancy of nearly 100 years. The landfill is expected to produce landfill gas until 2100, according to Billy Malone, the assistant director for DeKalb’s sanitation department.
In 2006, the conversion of landfill gas to electricity began. DeKalb County makes about $100,000 per month by selling that electricity to Georgia Power.
Currently 60 percent of the landfill gas is unused and is just being burned off. When the county begins converting the gas to renewable natural gas, 76 percent will be used.