JBER plant turns waste to energy

Friday, September 7, 2012 - 05:12
Base, muni worked together on project
An excavator crushes trash at the Anchorage Landfill, Aug. 21. The landfill provides the methane that powers the newly constructed Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Landfill Gas Plant.

During an especially cold December afternoon, a swirling formation of obsidian ravens hovered over a gray chimney, the structure pushing out hot air in the form of burned methane gas and oxygen combusted into water and carbon dioxide. Perhaps the black birds liked the heat. Perhaps they liked the extra lift. Chances are, it was the tantalizing combination of both that attracted the feathered acrobats.

Currently, the Anchorage Municipal Solid Waste Landfill - adjacent to JBER - collects and burns landfill gas to comply with EPA regulations. The gas is primarily methane - a rather simple molecule composed of a single carbon atom bonded to four surrounding hydrogen atoms.

With an eye to the future, officials at JBER, the Municipality of Anchorage and Doyon Utilities put their heads together to find a way to convert the landfill gas from a diversion for ravens into usable energy for the military base.

The JBER Landfill Gas Waste to Energy Plant is scheduled to begin operations January 2013 and is projected to generate more than 56,000 megawatt hours or 26.2 percent of JBER’s electrical load, said Tim Berg, 673d Civil Engineer Squadron asset optimization chief.

“Here (the municipality was) flaring the gas and getting no benefit other than maybe the ravens like to soar in the plume,” Berg said. “Now, we’re turning it into electricity for the base to use.”

Mark Madden, manager of planning and engineering, Municipality of Anchorage Solid Waste Services, said he has been eager to convert the costly flare into a profitable enterprise for the municipality.

“For the past five years, we have been just burning this gas,” Madden explained. “And it’s costing us about $60,000 per year to get rid of it. With this project, we don’t burn the gas off, we sell it. The base gets electricity, we get rid of our gas.”

Berg said once it was determined the gas would be sold rather than burned, the municipality put out a bid for a customer. Because military construction projects can take years to plan and execute, and the federal government cannot bid on its own behalf for such projects, Berg said the policy of privatization was beneficial to ensure JBER would have access to the methane gas for energy use.

“It was advantageous for us to have a privatized utility contractor...who could take those steps in partnership with the military as well as the municipality and the state,” he said.

Leveraging a $2 million grant from the Alaska Energy Authority and a 30 percent tax benefit from the federal government, Berg said the project will become cash positive in the third or fourth year of operation and save an estimated $50 million during the 46-year life of the project.

Perhaps more crucially, Berg said the plant ensures JBER will more than exceed renewable energy goals established by executive orders 13423 and 13514 as well as Section 203, Energy Policy Act of 2005. These mandates require federal agencies use renewable energy to meet at least 7.5 percent of total electric consumption beginning 2013. Because the generator plant is located at JBER, the installation is able to double count credit at 52.4 percent, or nearly seven times the goal.

“(The plant) is important from a regulatory standpoint,” Berg said. “It’s mandated by our commander in chief. But also it’s just the right thing to do.”

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