A new landfill-gas-to-energy project in Alaska pushes the climate boundary for this technology.
Alaska is called the last frontier, and that designation could apply to landfill gas-to-energy projects as well. The state’s first such project will open later this year in Anchorage. It could be the state’s last as well. But it’s a project that met the challenge of Alaska’s unique climate and demographics.
The city of Anchorage opened its landfill in 1987 and had long been flaring the gas, although it built a gas collection system in 2006. The city’s engineers had been working on the idea of converting the gas for some time, says Paul Alcantar, Anchorage’s director of solid waste services. It was particularly the brainchild of Mark Madden, the city’s former solid waste director and now manager of planning and engineering. But it had practical beginnings.
“We were needing to start collecting to be in compliance with NSPS (new source performance standard) regulations,” Madden says. “But we recognized it was a valuable resource.”
The city put out a request for proposals (RFP). At first, “we weren’t totally sold that electricity was the number one choice, but we were open to it,” Madden says.
The biggest challenge for the project was its general financial viability, agrees Dan Gavora, president and CEO of Fairbanks, Alaska-based Doyon Utilities LLC, which won the contract. “Everybody talks green but in today’s environment it’s all about the budget. So there was a lot of skepticism.”
But turning waste to energy proved to be the obvious choice. “The economics were way better with this alternative,” Madden says.
Doyon built and owns the power plant, and built and operates the gas processing facility for Anchorage. Madden says Doyon moved quickly; the firm only got the go-ahead a year ago. The project now is in a test phase and should be ready to go in late November.
Green Meets Olive Drab
A big factor in the equation is the primary customer for the gas, the joint Army-Air Force base Elmendorf-Richardson, which is next to the landfill and hosts part of the landfill gas-to-energy (LFGTE) facility on its property. The base also saw the value in the project. It had a strong need to secure a reliable energy source and a mandate to employ a certain amount of green energy. Those factors were key to making the project happen, Gavora says.
“The army didn’t have the wherewithal to get it done,” he says. But the military ended up paying for much of the project, whose economic efficiencies made it additionally attractive. Doyon has had a contract with the base for years to privatize many of the base’s utilities.
It’s also important for the military to be able support the local community in times of crisis, Gavora says, so this project works into that need as well. “Anchorage just had a weather event where the whole city went dark. We were able to island ourselves and bring the post back on from the landfill generation.”
Early projections of power generation have worked out for the base. “We met the military’s renewable energy goals by 700 percent, so we’re pretty ecstatic,” Gavora says.