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Energy from garbage is right way to go

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By Lee Helscel

When Marion County held special ceremonies this week to unveil some big generators at the Baseline Landfill, they acted like it was a big deal.

It was.

With a nation that puts some 80 percent of our garbage in our landfills – and those landfills reaching capacity – community leaders with vision are looking for new ways to solve the problem.

Marion County is to be commended for the foresight of installing a plant that will turn some of that garbage into energy. The concept has been discussed for years, but, like many programs that are at the beginning stage, the first step is more expensive than the present method dumping garbage at a landfill or moving a city’s trash to another location – sometimes even out of state.

Part of the answer of decreasing the landfills is to recycle. Many citizens consciously separate their bottles, cans, plastic and newspapers. However, many don’t. And the landfills continue to expand.

As the waste in the landfills decomposes, microorganisms from food waste, yard clippings and other materials produce gas that is mostly methane and carbon dioxide. Most of this methane gas is burned off through a flaring process.

A landfill gas power plant, such as the one Marion County has just installed, burns the methane gas that would otherwise be wasted. Scientists contribute much of the global warming to methane gas.

Among the benefits to the community that will be achieved, in addition to producing electricity, are that the flaring of gas will be reduced or delimited, as most of the waste gas will be used to generate power. The elimination of the flaring of gas is a direct environmental benefit.

Energy recovery capitalizes on the energy value of methane, while displacing the use of fossil fuels – offsetting coal and oil use further reduces emissions of a number of pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, a major contributor to acid rain.

Because there will be fewer transmission losses from the point of generation to the point of consumption, there will be a marked improvement in power quality.

It is good that Marion County is taking a leadership role in looking at new energy sources.