By Roger LeBlanc, Prince William County Department of Public Works
Have you ever been complimented for how useful your trash is? Prince William County Landfill has! A landfill was once thought of as the end of the road. It’s where our materials go when they are no longer wanted or can no longer be salvaged. Prince William County has turned this concept on its head with its renewable and sustainable landfill gas to energy program.
Now when the residents send their trash to the landfill, that waste may come back to their homes as electricity. Best yet – the methane used for electricity production is combusted to destroy any odors, making the landfill not only useful but also pleasant for the community.
“People in their houses throw away garbage, and it’s collected and put into the landfill,” David Comora, Chief Information Officer at Fortistar explains, “Methane gas is produced and converted to energy, and then that electricity is brought back to homes in Prince William.”
Prince William Landfill’s energy facility was expanded to produce over six megawatts of energy production for the County, powering over 5,000 homes in Prince William with renewable electricity. The program has earned the county recognition from the EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program. The Prince William County Solid Waste Division partnered with New York based Fortistar energy company to make it all happen. Fortistar focuses on energy investments to help transition to a zero carbon economy.
As landfill waste decomposes, gas is produced, which includes around 50% methane depending on many factors including the nature of the waste, temperature, humidity, and landfill management. Upwards of 100 underground wells across the landfill capture the gas and bring it to a single point at Fortistar’s facility. The gas is cleaned and compressed, used as fuel in engines to produce power, and there is an interconnect that brings it onto the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative’s electricity grid. The County then earns royalties for the energy, saving the community money overall.
Landfill gas represents a local source of sustainable, clean energy. The more locally produced energy captured from the landfill, the less energy that must be sourced from fuels that pollute the air and warm the climate. Fortistar has been providing innovative, clean energy solutions, including capturing energy from biomass, heat from steel plants, and of course – landfill gas. This year they are coming up to their 10-year anniversary of operating and running landfill gas operations.
Comora mentions that the Prince William landfill consistently allows their plant to run at high levels, thanks to the proper waste management happening at the Prince William Landfill.
“Our relationship with Prince William has been phenomenal,” Comora explains, “Mostly because of the County’s view on renewable energy and the positive impact this is having. You can tell from their annual Prince William Recycles Day event day and the effort to get out into the community that they realize value and benefit of using local resources in this beneficial way.”
The landfill gas project represents one of Prince William Solid Waste Division’s many sustainability commitments. The Division is developing an Eco Park Complex which will encompass the landfill, athletic fields, Outdoor Discovery Trails, wetlands, streams, and a recycling facility. Future anticipated projects include solar power, wind energy and solid waste conversion demonstrations and a net-zero energy education center that will empower students to solve today’s environmental challenges through hands-on activities and STEM investigations.
Next time you put your garbage out on the curb, rest easy. It is being put to good use powering the community.