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Landfill gas to power hospital?

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — August 10, 2010 — A Vermont firm is asking Sullivan County to let it harvest the Monticello landfill’s methane gas to make electricity for Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC) in Harris, among other uses.
Last week, the county got just one response to its request for proposals on utilizing the now-closed landfill’s gas, which is produced from the decaying trash.
But the proposal caught officials’ attention, if only for its unique approach to creating a profitable business.
Vermont-based startup Carbon Harvest Energy, in conjunction with the well-established SCS Engineers headquartered in California, is pitching a plan to build an approximately 6,000-square-foot gas-to-energy plant adjacent to the landfill.
More precisely, it’s being called a combined heat & power plant, as it would also reuse the excess heat generated from the gas-to-energy process.
That heat would be used to warm a five-acre greenhouse complex, 500,000-gallon aquaculture facility and algae development project Carbon Harvest Energy would construct next to the landfill, similar to a project it already has in development in Brattleboro, Vermont.
As for the electricity, the company proposes to only sell a small amount to the grid. To ensure profitability, Carbon Harvest Energy would sell the bulk of it to CRMC and provide a nominal amount for free to the county.
Through 2026, the company estimated it can provide for all the electricity needs of the county’s landfill-related buildings.
But that’s just 100,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Carbon Harvest Energy is boasting it could fulfill all of CRMC’s needs – 800,000 kilowatt-hours per year – for at least the next five years.
“Creating this long-term contract greatly improves our access to more favorable financing for capital and provides CRMC green leadership branding and electrical price stabilization,” Carbon Harvest Energy President Don McCormick wrote to county officials.
CRMC CEO Steve Ruwoldt, in fact, submitted a letter of support included with the proposal.
“It looks like the amount of electricity usage we have is ideal for them,” Ruwoldt told the Democrat last week. “It looked like a good fit.”
Introduced to Carbon Harvest Energy by the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, Ruwoldt said he talked personally with McCormick about the need to find a cheap but reliable source of energy for the hospital, which operates 24/7.
“It would be cheaper than what we get right now,” Ruwoldt said he learned, “... close to $100,000 a year less than what we’re paying now.”
Plus the electricity would be delivered through existing infrastructure – unlike the solar panel concept CRMC recently investigated but found too expensive.
“We’d much rather be able to spend our monies on providing patient care,” he pointed out.
CRMC’s board has yet to discuss the matter, said Ruwoldt, because the County Legislature must agree to the plan first. But if the county says yes, it’s likely the hospital will follow suit.
“We’re certainly very interested,” he explained. “... It’s a really nice package they’ve put together.”
County Manager David Fanslau indicated he’s intrigued but skeptical.
“I’m concerned with the realistic aspect of the actual revenues or cost avoidance that the county may realize from their proposal,” he related yesterday.
“However,” he added, “converting the methane gas to a beneficial use, such as electricity, is a public policy goal of the county. Therefore, I would anticipate having discussions with Carbon Harvest Energy in the near future.”
He stressed that Sullivan County’s interests will be looked at first.
“The county’s needs for electricity and revenues or cost avoidance must be a priority over other potential users of the electricity derived from the methane gas conversion.”
One part of the proposal did catch Fanslau’s eye.
“I am very enthused and anxious to discuss Carbon Harvest Energy’s proposal to pursue hydroponics and aquaculture business development, which is consistent with county objectives,” he said.
Though not on the agenda currently, the matter may be brought up as early as this Thursday’s Public Works Committee meeting, scheduled for 10:15 a.m. at the Government Center.

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