AUGUSTA — The city is moving forward with spending $350,000 to capture methane gas in the currently active portion of the Hatch Hill landfill, to provide more fuel for a planned system to use gas to make electricity.

The city already collects methane gas, produced by decomposing garbage in closed-off sections of the city-owned regional landfill, to prevent it from escaping into the environment. For now the collected gas is burned off by a flare.

But city officials now are working with consultants to design and, potentially within a year, begin operating a system to use the gas produced and captured at Hatch Hill to make electricity that would be fed into the electrical grid and help offset the city’s electricity costs.

To increase the amount of gas available to produce electricity, City Manager William Bridgeo and other city staff members propose tapping into the currently active portion of the landfill to collect methane gas there too.

Bridgeo said the city’s licenses to operate the landfill from the state Department of Environmental Protection note the wells must be installed before the closure of that area of the landfill anyway. So he proposed, and councilors unanimously approved, spending the $350,000 to begin collecting the gas sooner, rather than later, and installing a system of pipes in the active portion of the landfill to capture gas before it escapes into the environment.

“Because someday we’ll have to put in the piping to close the landfill anyway, we think it’s more prudent to put it in now, and capture all that gas and get some economic benefit out of it,” Bridgeo told city councilors, who voted unanimously Thursday to spend the money on it.

Lesley Jones, public works director, said the landfill, including the Expansion 3 area being contemplated for the new gas collection system, is projected to have 13 years of lifespan remaining, before it is deemed full and could close. However, the landfill’s contents are expected to continue to produce methane gas for years after it closes.

The estimated $350,000 it would cost to install the methane collection system in that section of the landfill would come from a reserve fund in which money is collected and set aside to pay for expenses related to the landfill’s eventual closure. The landfill, when closed, will need to have a cap placed on it, as well as other work.

So, Bridgeo said, the proposal would impose no cost on taxpayers, and it would have no effect on the Hatch Hill operating budget.

Jones said the landfill closure fund, as of the June 30 end of the last fiscal year, had $6.08 million in it, and closure liabilities are estimated to be $10.66 million.

The closure reserve fund is made up of money collected from users of the landfill. Hatch Hill now takes $17.41 for every ton of material that goes into the landfill and puts it into the closure reserve fund, out of about $72 a ton in charges.

The larger proposal to build a system to convert the captured methane gas into electricity is projected to cost about $2 million, which city officials anticipate would be more than paid back in the potential savings in electrical costs. Bridgeo said councilors still will need to approve major expenditures to build that system, including the purchase of generators, before the project moves forward.

Jones said the proposal to create that new system, partial funding for which had been approved previously by councilors, could go to the Planning Board for review in January 2018 and could go out to bid that June. The goal is to have the project up and running in October 2018.

The only concern expressed about the proposal was from Mayor David Rollins, who noted the issue came to councilors for the first time Thursday without, as new proposals generally do, first being presented at an informational meeting.

Bridgeo said the city needed to move quickly to take advantage of what he said is a good price bid by a contractor to do the work, which was good for only 30 days.

Jones said Crooker Construction, of Topsham, was the firm selected to do the work, and she expects work to start in January.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

 

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