The trash dumped for years at the now-closed Sarpy County Landfill could soon wind up heating homes — and helping county government finances, as well.
By year’s end, Omaha-based BioResource Development will be harvesting fetid gases emitted by a quarter-century’s worth of buried garbage at the 160-acre dump site just northwest of Springfield. The company will clean the gases and pump the resulting renewable natural gas into Black Hills Energy’s distribution network.
“You hear a lot of negativity about hydraulic fracturing and other drilling techniques. Well, this counters that,” said Paul Cammack, key accounts representative for Black Hills, an energy company based in South Dakota that serves customers in eight states including Nebraska. “Not all gas on our system in the future will come from wells in the ground. It’s also going to be coming from renewable sources which might just happen to be in every community.”
The project is the first of its kind for Black Hills in Nebraska, a state in which it serves 300 communities and about 300,000 customers.
Said Black Hills spokeswoman Brandy Johnson: “If you live in Sarpy County, you could be burning that gas.”
Black Hills built a 3.5-mile pipeline to transport the renewable natural gas from the landfill to an interconnection point on a larger distribution pipeline. The relatively short distance helped make the project economically viable, Cammack said.
BioResource Development locked down its latest contract with Sarpy in early 2016, after the county sent out a request for proposals in 2014 seeking a way to better control the smell of rotting waste.
Sarpy had already installed wellheads throughout its landfill in an effort to get a handle on the stench. But instead of collecting the gas for another use, it has been burning it off.
BioResource Development is installing new wells in addition to those already installed by the county, to which it will apply a vacuum that allows for the direct collection of waste gases. Those gases will then be processed to strip out moisture, carbon dioxide and other ambient gases like nitrogen and oxygen.
That leaves methane, the primary hydrocarbon that’s piped through natural gas pipelines and into homes and businesses.
“In order for us to put methane on the (Black Hills) pipeline, we have to meet the pipeline specifications, which call for clean and dry gas that is mostly methane,” said Greg MacLean, president of BioResource Development. “Turns out it’s a pretty complex and rigorous process to do that.”
MacLean and his partners declined to divulge the size of the investment to make the Sarpy County project happen, but they are confident that they can extract the fuel in a way that is commercially viable — as they’ve done at a similar project at the long-closed State Street landfill at 126th and State Streets — and to an extent that nearby residents should no longer have to put up with the funk of decades-old garbage.
That will no doubt be good news to Barb Mills, whose home is within smelling distance of the landfill that closed late last year.
Earlier this week, Mills said putrid odors still emit from almost 30 years’ worth of accumulated garbage.
“When you can drive down the road in your vehicle with the windows closed and still smell it, nothing has changed,” Mills said. “It still stinks. It’s still the same.”
Sarpy County spokeswoman Megan Stubenhofer-Barrett concedes that the landfill’s stench has been an problem. But she is confident that the BioResource Development-Black Hills project will keep odors at bay.
“Once the landfill is completely capped and the gas collection system is turned on, that gas will no longer be venting into the air, so we don’t believe smell will be an issue any more,” she said.
The county will save approximately $100,000 a year in costs it would have otherwise incurred for monitoring and compliance with air standards; BioResource Development will take on those responsibilities.
Sarpy County also will get a 2.5 percent cut of the renewable fuels company’s gross annual revenues from the sale of natural gas to Black Hills. Stubenhofer-Barrett said the county estimates that its take will be to the tune of about $100,000 a year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that there are currently 634 landfill gas projects in the U.S.
Metropolitan Utilities District pipes renewable natural gas onto its system from another BioResource Development plant at Douglas County’s old State Street landfill at 126th and State Streets. Gas collected from the facility that closed in 1989 is used to power local fleet vehicles that run on compressed natural gas.
And the Omaha Public Power District also uses methane from the Pheasant Point landfill, another Douglas County facility, near 216th Street and Nebraska Highway 35. OPPD burns gas collected there to power combustion engines that are connected to generators, which generate enough electricity to power about 4,000 homes a year.