Liberty Utilities unveils renewable gas plan at Bethlehem landfill

Company says project would supply 6% of customers

Liberty Utilities wants to transform all the methane coming out of the North Country Environmental Services landfill in Bethlehem into enough gas to supply 6 percent of its New Hampshire customers’ energy needs, the utility announced Thursday.

The project, which will be one of the first, and the largest, renewable natural gas projects in New England, would result in lower prices for customers, if the company is able to sell thermal renewable energy credits, or TRECs.

In addition, said Susan Fleck, president of the company’s New Hampshire operations, “this project will reduce air emissions, develop a local renewable resource, lower fuel costs for our customers and create jobs and economic development in the North Country.”

A third party, Rudarpa Inc., based in Utah, would collect the gas, remove impurities to turn it into the chemical equivalent of natural gas and then compress it into trucks, which would then deliver the product to Liberty’s facilities in Concord, Keene and perhaps Lebanon.

Liberty would then be able to decompress the gas to serve the 92,000 homes and businesses in the 31 communities it serves.

Liberty officials also said they have a letter of intent from two large customers that would buy about 44 percent of the gas for their own needs, according to a filing with the NH Public Utilities Commission. 

Currently, Casella Waste Systems, the Vermont-based owner of the landfill, burns nearly half a million dekatherms of methane annually. Casella had once hoped to use the heat that was generated to created electricity, but it didn’t have the transmission lines to make it work, said Kevin Roy, who runs the landfill. 

Roy says the methane – a more potent contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than carbon dioxide – is still being burned at the landfill, but the compressed natural gas project would eliminate nearly all of those carbon emissions.

“This is much better than flaring,” Roy said. “We would be approaching zero emissions, which is unheard of for a landfill.”

It would take three to four trucks a day to deliver the compressed gas, which would be like a “virtual pipeline,” Roy said. He contended that such trucks would be safe, because the gas would only ignite in very specific conditions. “It is much safer than trucking around gasoline,” he said.

In its PUC filing. Liberty said it would cost more than $800,000 to build a decompresser in Concord, but that the gas would be cheaper than that piped in from elsewhere. That’s because the state now allows electric utilities to meet their renewable energy portfolio standards by purchasing the TREC credits.

In other words, electric utilities would pay gas utilities for those renewable credits, resulting in substantial savings for gas ratepayers.

But electric ratepayers would also benefit, said Liberty spokesperson Emily Burnett. The electric utility would presumably have to buy renewable energy credits anyway, but by putting more RECs on the market, Liberty will help increase their supply, and thereby drive down the price. 

There are currently 67 renewable natural gas projects currently on line around the county, plus 25 under construction and another 25 in development, said David Cox, of the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, a renewable energy trade in another PUC filing. So far, the closest is in New York, which hosted some of the earliest projects. None have been built in New England, but Vermont Gas recently did get state approval to introduce some renewable natural gas into its system, according to a PUC filing.

Liberty officials also told the PUC that most of the risk of the project was on Rudarpa, which would have to deliver the gas on an agreed upon price.

The project still needs to obtain various state and local approvals. Local groups that have opposed expansion of the landfill in the past are opposed to the project, said Roy, so the project probably won’t get underway until at least this spring, and the renewable gas won’t start rolling until the summer.

 

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