UMaine to buy gas from landfill

Posted Jan. 30, 2011, at 8:11 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine — The University of Maine and Casella Waste Systems Inc. have signed a 20-year landfill gas purchasing sales agreement for methane gas produced at Juniper Ridge Landfill that will be used at the school’s steam plant, officials say.

“We have agreed to sell the university the gas created at Juniper Ridge Landfill,” Don Meagher, Casella manager of planning and development, said Friday. “They have agreed to purchase the landfill gas, and we would be their primary supplier.”

Casella will need to build a 5- to 6-mile pipeline to get the landfill gas, which is now flared, or burned off, from Juniper Ridge to the steam plant where it will be used as fuel to provide UMaine with heat and hot water.

“What we’re doing here really is taking the flared gas that is collected … [and] we will use that energy and replace the fossil fuels” now being used, Janet Waldron, UMaine’s vice president for administration and finance, said Friday.

The contract with Casella provides six major benefits for the state’s flagship campus, Waldron said.

“It will result in a significant regional reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “We estimate that we will be able to reduce the carbon footprint by about 40 percent.”

The eventual goal “is to reach zero carbon footprint,” Waldron said.

Under the landfill gas purchasing agreement, the university no longer will have to ship in oil, the landfill gas will be sold to the school at a discount, and there is a cap on the price, she said.

“It’s going to generate significant saving for the university over this [20-year] time period,” Waldron said. “It could be as little as $11 million … to possibly $20 million. We were conservative in our assumptions.”

The agreement also “provides price stability for the university, which of course with the volatile energy markets is a significant benefit going forward,” she added. Plus “there is a cap built into the contract.”

Meagher said, “It’s always going to be their cheapest fuel.”

Michael Swartz, energy and utility manager for UMaine, said the boilers at the steam plant would need to be modified to use the landfill gas. All of the boilers will be converted to use both landfill gas and oil, and one may be modified to accept three types of fuel — landfill gas, oil and natural gas, he said.

In addition to the University, Old Town also will benefit from the agreement, Meagher said. Casella has agreed to give the town a percentage of all revenues from the sale of landfill gas and any electricity generated by it.

The deal also includes a revenue sharing provision for the town and university for any carbon offset credits sold for reducing carbon emission, Meagher said. Landfill gas is classified as a renewable energy source, he said.

“When you combust landfill gas, you’re taking methane and converting it to carbon dioxide,” Meagher said. “It reduces its greenhouse gas equivalency, or effect, by 21 times. Those reductions have a financial value.”

He added later that “people are pretty excited about that.”

Meagher said the school approached Casella about the possibility of using the landfill gas in 2008 after UMaine President Robert Kennedy heard there was a similar operation at the University of New Hampshire.

The thought was “we have a state-owned landfill and a flagship campus within a few miles of each other,” he said. And “if UNH can do it, we can do it.”

When approached by the university, Meagher recalled thinking, “This sounds like a pretty intriguing idea. Can we do it?”

The answer is yes and the contract, which was signed on Dec. 21, is the first step, he said. The next step is for Casella to design and construct the pipeline.

“The sooner it starts the sooner they are going to start to see savings,” Meagher said.

The plan is to have the pipeline up and running by the 2012 heating season.

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