Lebanon landfill project to convert gas to electricity is delayed and over budget

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-16-2024 7:30 PM

LEBANON — With scheduling delays and increased construction prices hindering the city’s effort to convert landfill gas into electricity, public works officials say it’s going to take some more cash to finish the project.

The department will be making its pitch to the City Council on Wednesday night for an additional appropriation of $724,000.

“This is an expensive project,” Deputy City Manager David Brooks said.

If the funding is approved at Wednesday’s meeting, that would bring the total spent so far to around $6.6 million, about $1.5 million more than initial estimates predicted. About $2.85 million has already been paid for by revenue from the solid waste facility, and the remaining $3.75 million — including the new proposed appropriation — “has been or will be” paid for by a bond that would also be financed by that revenue, Brooks wrote in an email. There is no impact to property taxes.

Still, the project ultimately is expected to pay for itself, Brooks added, noting the anticipated annual return to the city is 10% of its total investment. That’s more than $500,000 a year in revenue. 

In 2022, the city signed off on a contract to begin construction with Exeter, N.H.-based Waldron Engineering and Construction, expecting that the project — which was first proposed in 2011 — would be up and running about a year later. But it has since faced “big delays,” said Erica Douglas, the city’s solid waste manager.

The lag can be attributed partially to a last-minute, 16-month study requested by National Grid on its substation on Poverty Lane, which will play a role in moving the electricity from the project’s turbines onto the grid, Douglas said. “My understanding is they’re looking at being able to take the extra megawatt of power that we’re generating, and working on a few upgrades to their system to make sure they can handle that,” Douglas said.

The National Grid study is expected to be completed this summer, and in the meantime has increased the costs of labor and maintaining equipment onsite.

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Additionally, the funding would take care of an anticipated hike in warranty costs for the equipment, which would cover repairs as well as the replacement of turbines in 10 years. 

As a result of the holdups, the project has been made vulnerable to the increases in the cost of materials and site work that has been felt across the construction sector, Douglas said.

But expenses have been shed in other areas. The department learned recently that the project met federal and state air quality standards without purchasing the five catalytic converters, which would have mitigated exhaust, and were included in the project’s budget.

“That ended up saving us about a million dollars,” Douglas said.

Plus, the electricity produced is poised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Lebanon by 3,500 tons a year — equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 23,000 gasoline-powered cars, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The solid waste facility already converts the methane gas to less-harmful carbon dioxide by burning it with a flare. Finishing the project is a chance to make greenhouse gas emissions benefit the city’s green energy goals, which include cutting emissions by a quarter by 2025.

“I focus a lot on CO2, which is already pretty terrible for trapping heat in our atmosphere,” said Sherry Boschert, a member of the Lebanon Energy Advisory Committee. “But you know what? Methane is 28 times worse than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.”

The megawatt of energy that the project is set to generate will be “consistent,” Douglas, the solid waste manager, said. The landfill produces gas no matter the time of day or season, unlike the dip in production that solar panels see during the winter months and at nighttime.

It would be used by the city to power municipal facilities, potentially offsetting 80% of those buildings’ energy needs. The other 20% is offset already by solar power.

The landfill generator will also be connected to a city-owned electric vehicle charger.

There’s a lot of equipment already on site, and drainage work has been largely completed, Douglas said. “We just have to start breaking ground,” she said.

Once that happens, it will about six months until Lebanon will be running partly on the fumes of its own trash.

The Lebanon City Council will be meeting to consider the appropriation along with the rest of its agenda on Wednesday at 7 p .m. at 51 North Park Street.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps memb er. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.