The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 7, 2012

City Council gets update on projects

By Justin Jones, Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 — Albemarle City Council received an update on two conceptual projects that could aid the city in its ability to use more efficient energy sources at their meeting Monday evening.

Andrew Fusco, director of planning at ElectriCities of North Carolina, presented a slideshow to the council that laid out project updates on a solid waste disposal facility at the city’s landfill and a solar project at the Tuckertown Water Treatment Plant.

Beginning with the landfill project, Fusco informed council of the essential background information. As noted in his presentation, as landfill waste decomposes over time, methane is produced as a byproduct.

With purification, methane can be used as a fuel in a combustion engine.

“When you use it to fire a reciprocating engine, as long as the shaft rotates you can put a generator on the other side of it and create electricity,” Fusco said.

For this project, it is estimated that the output could be between 1 and 1.5 megawatts at peak capacity. At that rate, the expected energy production would be 9,000,000 kilowatt hours per year. As a comparison, Albemarle uses about 310,000,000 kilowatt hours per year.

“As you can see while this is relatively small by comparison, it’s still a significant amount of energy,” Fusco said.

Fusco then gave council the timetable for how ElectriCities has worked with outside parties and Albemarle on how this project could become a reality.

The city, along with ElectriCities, plans to continue in negotiations and feasibility assessments through the end of the year. Once analysis is completed and the city has given their input, construction could begin as soon as 2013, but it is not a certainty.

“This is all dependent on project economics, but Albemarle may receive some compensation for gas that comes out of the ground on the project,” he said of the reasons why Albemarle might find the project most beneficial financially.

“The viability of the project depends on its economics.”

The actual structure, according to Fusco, would be owned by an outside party.

“We would be working with a third party firm to come in and develop and construct this and also own this project. When I say own, I mean own the gas collection system as well as the generator, nothing else,” Fusco said.

“The power agency would purchase the electric output of the project.”

Fusco then turned the conversation to the solar project that has been discussed at the Tuckertown Water Treatment Plant. Similarly to the landfill project, this solar project is dependent upon the economics and benefits to the city.

“Project must provide at least breakeven economics to Albemarle and NCMPA1(NC Public Power’s Agency),” as his presentation showed.

“I gotta say it’s a very nice site for such a project,” Fusco said in his introduction.

The project would call for a solar facility to be constructed on 10 acres of available space at the Tuckertown Plant.

“Ten acres gets you about 1 megawatt of capacity off the project,” Fusco said.

Fusco told council that this project would be similar to the landfill gas project  with one noticeable exception.

“Union Electric Coop would buy the electric power from that facility, not the power agency, but the power agency may obtain the solar REC’s (renewable energy certificate) that comes of the project,” Fusco said.  

“Because it would be located on an Albemarle property, the city will receive lease for the project, as well,” he said.

Fusco included in the presentation that significant state and federal tax incentives are in place for the development of solar generators, particularly within North Carolina.

As questions began to come from mayor and council, it was noted that currently any methane gas is being vented out of the landfill, but not collected at this time.

“Tell us what we could or could not be expecting from it,” Councilman Ronnie Michael asked on the possible revenues.

“So the economics could work out such that the electric energy that the power agency buys are low enough so that Albemarle could get compensated,” Fusco said.

“But if the electric cost to the power agency is significantly above what it would cost to produce that energy otherwise then not only would we be buying overpriced energy, but then it would be very difficult to pay to allow for the cost of what would be free gas that (ElectriCities) paid for to the City of Albemarle.”

If the economics do work out to allow Albemarle to become more green, as the energy efficient methods are called, Councilwoman Martha Sue Hall is supportive.

“I just am excited about the whole process particularly with us being more green. I think I see the future in that,” she said.