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Orion ponders renewable energy proposal



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August 25, 2010 - If one man's trash is another man's treasure, is one man's garbage another man's gas?

The folks at Waste Management of Michigan and Eagle Valley Landfill say yes – methane gas, anyway – and they're hoping to break ground soon on a renewable energy facility in Orion Township.

The proposal, recently presented to the township's planning commission, calls for construction of a 5,400-square-foot facility near Giddings and Silverbell Road.

Once complete, the facility would convert landfill gas, arriving through a pipeline based at the Eagle Valley Recycle and Disposal Facility, to electricity via two engine/generator sets housed in the building.

Waste Management operates a network of over 270 landfill sites, managing millions of tons of waste every year.

According to company literature, landfill gas is created naturally through the decomposition of waste.

Collected through extraction wells distributed throughout the landfill, Waste Management officials said the gas can be used for electricity production, industrial heating and steam production, liquid waste evaporation facilities or other fossil fuel-burning facilities.

"The gas is made up of about 50 methane, 43 percent CO2 and 5 percent nitrogen and trace gasses," said Richard Paajanen of Waste Management at Eagle Valley Landfill what attended the meeting to give a presentation and answer questions. "The landfill gas system collects roughly 3,000 cubic feet per minute of landfill gas. Half of that is committed to the GM Orion plant for boiler fuel, per our contract with them."

The new facility, Paajanen said, will consume 1,200 square feet per minute of landfill gas.

Currently the same amount is destroyed in flare the system because there's no conversion facility on site, he noted.

Paajanen also gave the planning commission an overview of other facilities designed and constructed by Waste Management Renewable Energy, a Waste Management subsidiary.

In Orion, he said, two 20-cylinder engines would use landfill gas as fuel and turn large generator units and make electricity.

Once generated, electricity would be delivered to a Detroit Edison distribution grid on Giddings Road.

"The gross output is 3.2 megawatts of power," he said. "That's enough to power 3,000 homes, and this facility has an expected operating life of 20 years or more, operated by two employees working five days per week," he said.

Don Wortman of Carlisle/Wortman Associates, Inc., gave planners an overview, noting the site plans were, for the most part, in compliance with Township's ordinances.

However, he pointed out, the applicants were requesting a waiver on several issues.

The planning commission voted to partially waive the tree survey; to waive the asphalt paving requirement for the east side of the building since the area will be seldom accessed; and to waive a portion of the greenbelt requirements.

Ultimately, the group voted  to approve the site plan pending small parking space modifications.

All motions received unanimous 4-0 approval from planning commissioners Sandra Dyl, Justin Dunaskiss, John Steimel, and Douglas Zande.

Commissioners Thurber, Zilka, and Christie were absent.

Later, Orion Township Supervisor Matthew Gibb said public hearings would be scheduled before a final decision was made by the township board.

But, he said, the facility would be a "great asset," providing Orion with numerous environmental advantages.

"Right now they're venting methane and some of the air quality people have been concerned," Gibb said. "This will help. There won't be any more venting or flaring of methane, it's all going to be turned into electricity. It's a win-win for us."

But there are drawbacks, as well.

Waste Management is interested in starting to partially close the Eagle Valley site, Gibb explained – which could mean less money coming into township coffers through the host fee agreement.

Our goal is to get all our homework done, then sit down and discuss it with (Waste Management)," Gibb said. "We're only interested if we can renegotiate a different fee structure."

Waste Management currently supplies landfill-gas to over 115 projects in North America, providing the equivalent of over 550 megawatts of electricity – enough to power more than 400,000 homes.

Lake Orion Review Editor
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