AUGUSTA — City councilors are scheduled to decide Thursday whether to spend $3 million to build a system to use methane gas generated by rotting garbage at Hatch Hill landfill to produce electricity and reduce the city’s electric bills.

While councilors previously have expressed support for the idea and agreed to fund projects related to it, Thursday’s vote would commit the city to seeing the project through. The $3 million project would be financed by money generated at Hatch Hill, which accepts solid waste from several municipalities in the region. The landfill is expected to keep producing gas for at least 17 years, so the proposed new power-generating facility that would be built at Hatch Hill could result in the city saving money on its electricity bills once the cost of the project is recovered, while simultaneously benefiting the environment.

Hatch Hill already has a system that collects methane gas at the landfill to prevent it from escaping into and harming the environment. It is burned off by a flare. The proposed new system would use the gas generated at the landfill to produce electricity, for which the city would be compensated by Central Maine Power Co. with a credit toward electricity used at city facilities. The city plans to use the electricity officials expect the system to generate to offset the electric bills for the nine city buildings that use the most electricity.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said Tuesday the project is expected to pay for itself in 11 years and generate savings for the city whether controversial proposed new state “net metering” rules recommended by the state Public Utilities Commission are put in place or not.

The Pine Tree Landfill, in Hampden, owned by Casella Waste Systems, installed a system to convert trash to energy in 2008.

Officials of Woodard & Curran, an engineering firm working on the project for the city, said in a memo to the city that the project, including electrical generation equipment, a new building to house the equipment and other operations, and the extension of a gas line from the landfill collection system to the generators, could go out to bid in March “… in anticipation of having the project operational and producing electricity (and saving money) for the city by December of 2018.”

The cost of the project, initially expected to be about $2 million, is now expected to be about $3 million. The size of the generation system also has increased since the idea first was hatched, from a 350-kilowatt generation system to a 550-kilowatt system. And revenue from the project is also higher than was estimated previously, in 2016, by about 40 percent — in part because the city now proposes to collect methane gas from a newer section of the landfill, where a new methane collection system would be installed.

Councilors are scheduled to vote at their 7 p.m. meeting Thursday on whether to authorize spending up to $3 million, in Hatch Hill money, to build the system.

Councilors are also scheduled to:

• Consider approving their goals for the year;

• Consider authorizing the use of a $50,000 grant from Friends of Maine’s Mountains and Blue Sky West for improvements to Bond Brook Recreation Area; and

• Consider authorizing City Manager William Bridgeo to sign contracts negotiated with labor unions representing Augusta Civic Center operations employees and firefighters.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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