Green energy produced at Delaware landfills

Methane released from two Delaware landfills — one in Sussex County — will now be used to make “green” energy.

Ameresco Inc., a Boston-based company, is using specialized engines at Delaware Solid Waste Authority landfills in Kent County and on Route 20 west of Georgetown to generate electricity that it will sell to Constellation NewEnergy. The programs will have the capacity to generate 7.4 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 4,500 homes annually according to an Ameresco release.

“We’re putting to beneficial use something that would otherwise be wasted,” said Pasquale Canzano, DSWA’s chief operating officer, who said landfill officials previously released the methane into the environment through flares. “It’s kind of a win-win all around.”

Landfill gas, which comprises primarily methane and carbon dioxide, is a by-product of natural decomposition, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program promotes programs such as the one being initiated in Delaware.

The Delaware projects will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Delaware by about 60,000 tons annually, the equivalent of removing 60,000 cars from Delaware roads annually, according to an Ameresco release sent last week.

Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary John Hughes said that, while methane is not a major pollutant, the move is a smart and beneficial one.

“We’re very pleased to see the methane taken out of the atmosphere and applied to energy,” said Hughes, whose department monitors landfill emissions. “That’s big. Not only is it not polluting, it’s providing. I think that’s really smart and I applaud DSWA. It’s a great, great idea, very protective of our environment.”

The roughly 60 million kWh the two programs will have the capacity to generate annually, according to an Ameresco vice president, will be sold to Constellation NewEnergy — the leading national commercial energy supplier and subsidiary of Constellation Energy, according to its Web site — under a recently-signed 10-year contract. Ameresco, an international company, provided the capital for the Delaware programs and will split the revenues generated with DSWA.

“We do these types of projects across the country,” said Michael Bakas, vice president of Ameresco’s renewable energy group. “We were very attracted to the Delaware sites because of the manner in which they are operated. DSWA has done a tremendous job. It’s a significant impact.”

Instead of flaring the gas into the environment, the flares will be diverted into GE/Jenbacher engines on site, which are designed for such projects, according to Ameresco. Methane, which makes up roughly 45 percent of the landfill gas, will then be used to produce the green energy, which, through generators, will be rolled onto the grid, officials said.

At its Cherry Island, New Castle County DSWA landfill, officials divert methane directly to the Conectiv plant, where it is used to produce green energy.

“With these two projects coming on line, all three of our landfills will be using energy from landfill gas to make green power,” Canzano said. “That’s a heck of a claim.”