Landfill: Flathead Electric Co-op Announce Expansion of Gas-to-Energy Plant

“Essentially, your garbage can power your house,” says Dave Prunty, Public Works Director for Flathead County, when asked to explain Flathead Electric Cooperative’s biomass project at the county landfill, now in its 14th year.

Back in 2009, the Co-op and the County worked together to create Montana’s first methane-gas-to-energy project, run by a Caterpillar engine capable of generating 1.6 megawatts of electricity from methane gas produced by the landfill – that’s enough electricity to power about 1,600 households. Electric generation has been so successful that the Co-op is adding a second Caterpillar engine to the plant, doubling its capacity to 3.2 megawatts, or about 3,200 households.

There are about 57,000 members and 73,000 meters on the Co-op’s electric system, which is largely fueled by Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) hydropower. While the gas-to-energy plant can’t power the entire Flathead Valley, the Co-op prizes the diversity and reliability its generation adds to its electric system. “It’s pretty cool to make garbage a benefit to our area, too,” noted Ashley Keltner, System Engineer for the Co-op, with a smile.

Electric generation is expected to increase alongside the landfill’s continued growth. Faced with taking on waste at record levels, the Flathead County Solid Waste District recently partnered with the Co-op to complete a multi-year methane well expansion project that will significantly increase gas collection ahead of the addition of a second engine. Prunty reflected, “In the last 10 years, the amount of trash sent to the landfill increased by over 3,000 tons a year. We don’t project a slowdown in garbage, so the time seemed right to partner back up with the Co-op and expand the gas-to-energy project.”

Initial gas projections show enough methane fuel to power both engines at around 75% capacity at initial startup. Gas levels will continue to increase moving forward and both engines are predicted to reach maximum capacity within 10 years. Methane is a greenhouse gas that results from decaying garbage. It is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

To comply with environmental mandates–and, as Prunty puts it, “common sense”–landfills are required to contain their methane production. Before the gas-to-energy plant was built, the landfill use to flare, or burn, the methane. Instead of flaring, the plant utilizes a vacuum system connected to methane “wells” and pipes dispersed throughout the landfill to draw the methane into a biomass process. The methane is filtered and then burned in a 20-cylinder engine, which is connected directly to the Co-op’s electric system.

The plant, and first engine, were funded by $3.5 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds awarded to the Co-op. The system was installed and is operated by SCS Energy, which will continue to operate the gas-to-energy plant after the expansion. SCS will bring on an additional employee when the second engine begins operation.

The Co-op purchased the second engine directly from Kalispell’s Western States dealer. The new engine is presently being manufactured in Lafayette, Indiana. At the same time, the first engine is undergoing an overhaul in Boise to ready it for the new operation.

Meanwhile, EnergyNeering Solutions (ESI) is working with a small group of largely local contractors to construct the building for the new engine. ESI also handled the design and permitting aspects of the second engine and its building. The new engine will be installed in Spring 2023 by ESI and Western States.

After 13 years of analyzing and reporting monthly results from the gas-to-energy plant to the Co-op’s Board of Trustees, Jason Williams, Assistant General Manager for Engineering, Operations and Power, believes the plant has more than proven itself as an asset to Co-op members and is worthy of expansion. “We’re largely a distribution Co-op, but it’s a great thing to have some of our own electric generation right here in the Valley — 3.2 megawatts of electricity is by no means insignificant and gives us increased autonomy and resilience,” Williams noted.

To learn more about the Landfill Gas-to-Energy Plant, visit: Landfill Gas-to-Energy Plant – Flathead Electric Cooperative.

The Caterpillar engine running the Co-op’s Landfill Gas-to-Energy Plant. Photo courtesy Flathead Electric Cooperative.

For Montana Legislature, The
Biennial Work Begins… Continued from Page 1

Vinton noted several GOP legislative priorities, including using the state’s $1 billion-plus budget surplus to issue tax rebates, increasing parents’ involvement in their children’s education and “demanding that all three branches of government adhere to the same rules of transparency of transparency and ethics” — the latter an apparent reference to the ongoing conflict between Republican legislators and the state judiciary.

In an agenda-framing speech of his own, Republican Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick, of Great Falls, said he regards addressing inflation, housing and cost-of-living issues as a priority for this year’s Legislature. He also touted what he called the success of Republicans’ 2021 agenda, which cut taxes and curtailed COVID-19 pandemic-era public health regulations. Fitzpatrick said the expanded majority won by Republicans in last fall’s election gives that agenda the electorate’s stamp of approval.

“Montanans made it clear that they like our conservative leadership and they want us to continue to lead the state in the positive direction that we did last session,” Fitzpatrick said. In remarks to the press and other lawmakers, Democrats pledged to advance policies to address housing affordability, protect access to abortion, improve mental health care and more while also fighting the torrent of Republican legislation coming down the pike.

“There’s a lot of responsibility in having majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and the same party in the governor’s office,” House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, of Helena, told lawmakers Monday. “You have to govern. And when we disagree, and we think that your policies aren’t meeting the needs of our constituents, we’re going to hold you accountable.” Those Republican bills include several to refer constitutional amendments to voters, a prospect that could mean major changes to the state’s environmental and privacy protections, Democrats warn. With their two-thirds supermajority, Republicans need no votes from the minority party to pass such referrals.

“I think it’s pretty clear in this last election that Montanans like their Constitution, and they like the freedoms and rights that come with that Constitution,” Flowers said Monday morning. “And I think you can count on Montana Democrats to fight against any effort to take away those rights and freedoms through amendments to the Constitution.”

Lawmakers also passed temporary operating rules, a move that allows legislative business to proceed while a formal rules resolution makes its way to the floor for a vote. Theoretically, that should occur Tuesday. The House Rules Committee met shortly after adjournment Monday to consider amendments to that resolution, ultimately adopting language that would lower the vote threshold for a so-called blast motion — a procedural move that allows bills stalled in committee to be brought to the floor for a vote — from three-fifths of the chamber to a 55-vote majority. Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, who brought the amendment, said its intent is to diffuse power throughout the body, not concentrate it in committee chairs and leadership.

“We have some committees that are small — let’s say a 13-person committee,” Buttrey said during debate Monday. “And if seven people on that committee say the bill is not worthy of going forward, those people represent roughly 70,000 Montanans. If 930,000 other Montanans who their representatives say ‘I think we deserve the ability to debate this bill,’ I think that should be respected.”

Buttrey’s amendment represented one of the day’s only open conflicts, as other Republicans accused him of making it easier for Democrats to leverage relationships with dissenting members of the GOP.

“These motions are nothing more than an attempt to neuter the voices of the people of Montana who have sent conservative voices to serve in the Legislature,” said Rep. Jerry Schillinger, R-Circle.

The committee also adopted an amendment to House rules providing that a member may take a vote by electronic means only by permission of the Speaker.

“If you’re here at the Capitol you need to be present to vote,” said Rep. Larry Brewster, R-Billings.

The amended rules resolution ultimately passed on a 14-8 vote. It still requires approval by the full House before entering into effect.

Courtesy of Montana Free Press