The Prince William County Landfill can now produce more than twice as much electricity as it once did. Three new, 20-cylinder, 2,230-horsepower, 4.8-megawatt diesel engines that are modified to burn methane, are now running to produce electricity to add to the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) grid.
In 1997, the County partnered with the renewable energy production company Fortistar to manage electricity production from methane trapped at the landfill using two 1.9-megawatt engines. The original engines had recently become insufficient at handling all of the methane produced by 1,000 tons of garbage that arrive at the landfill every day.
Tony Wetzel, Fortistar Vice President of Business Development, said that conditions recently evolved to make it worthwhile to install the three new engines. Under the partnership with the County, Fortistar spent roughly $10 million to install the three new $850,000 engines and build the facilities to produce enough electricity to power roughly 5,000 homes every day. Fortistar manages the power plant and sells the electricity it produces to NOVEC at the same time it returns roughly $13,000 annually to the County.
Since the landfill was producing more methane than the old engines could handle, Wetzel said it was time to build the new power plant. “We had to wait until circumstances were right for NOVEC and the marketplace to say we could do a
contract at a price to make it right for us.”
Coles District Supervisor Martin E. Nohe, center, uses an iPad to turn on one of three , new diesel engines at the Prince William County Landfill as Prince William Solid Waste Division Chief Tom Smith , right, looks on.
Coles District Supervisor Martin E. Nohe said garbage isn’t something people would choose to think much about. “Local government does a lot of things. We arrest the bad guys. We put out the fires. We monitor the streams. We build the roads. Those are the things we talk about. Most Americans don’t want to think about a lot of what we do. They don’t want to think about the fact that it’s the local government that’s in charge of burying the garbage.”
Nohe went on to say, “Something that I think should be a great source of pride is we turn our garbage into a world-leading energy resource. What we do here is fantastic.”
Tom Smith, Prince William County Solid Waste Division Chief, said the expansion puts the Prince William County landfill in the big leagues. “Not all landfills make power onsite. Some of them will just flare it depending upon the quantities. There are bigger landfill gas power plants out there, but this expansion puts us in another level. This would be considered a large gas recovery facility. Not only are we producing power that can be used in our community, we’re also controlling our landfill gas.”