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Saturday, July 12, 2014
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Published: Friday, 2/1/2013

Methane blues

Toledo city engineers need to determine why methane gas from the Hoffman Road landfill isn’t flowing through pipelines as it should, so it can be used to generate electricity to power the city’s Bayview Wastewater Treatment Plant. That work, costing $1.9 million, requires City Council approval.

That sum is not unreasonable to support a $31 million project that could create jobs, yield long-term energy savings, and greatly reduce Toledo’s output of one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Yet council members are hearing the same tired old complaints about renewable energy, despite its potential to reduce waste and promote innovative power production. Any facility that produces energy needs engineering adjustments from time to time. A modest additional investment in the methane project would not throw good money after bad.

Mayor Mike Bell’s administration has made the right call by proposing the additional work, which includes wells to facilitate the methane flow. The Hoffman Road landfill can generate enough methane to power the wastewater treatment plant for decades.

At peak production, Toledo taxpayers would save $3 million a year in electricity costs to power the sewer plant, one of the city’s largest energy users. The project also could apply surplus power to the regional electric grid, which would result in other savings.

The methane flow has been erratic for a long time, often delivering only half as much gas as expected. Last July, even that stream stopped.

Toledo’s landfill gas-to-electricity project is large and ambitious, but not unique. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies 594 such projects across the country, 39 in Michigan and 22 in Ohio. An additional 540 are in the works.

So nearly half of the nation’s 2,400 municipal solid waste landfills run or plan such projects. The city should be able to find consultants who can fix the problem at the Hoffman Road landfill.

Methane is useful for electricity production because it is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. Landfills are among the biggest methane producers.

The EPA says there is more methane trapped in the atmosphere now than at any time over the past 400,000 years. Flaring off the landfill’s methane doesn’t achieve as many savings.

The EPA gave the Toledo project an innovation award in 2011. It, too, has a stake in a successful outcome. The agency could give City Council a helpful nudge toward getting the project back in business.



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