The power of trash

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 9, 2006

By Kari Lucin, staff writer

LAKE MILLS, Iowa &8212; Wind, water, corn, soybeans and sunshine are all well-known sources of renewable energy, but northern Iowans are experiencing the delights of a lesser-known fuel source: garbage.

Waste Management Inc. has built a 4.8-megawatt power plant at its landfill site in rural Lake Mills, where it will generate enough power for 4,000 homes for the Dairyland Power Co-op.

Much of the trash comes from Minnesota. Some of the power will also end up in Minnesota via smaller cooperatives like the Freeborn-Mower Cooperative.

&8220;It is a beautiful day for renewable energy,&8221; said Paul Paber, vice president of Renewable Energy for Waste Management Inc. &8220;Landfill gas is EPA endorsed and environmentally friendly.&8221;

As garbage decomposes in a landfill, it naturally releases methane and carbon dioxide, both greenhouse gases that would have to be burned off or disposed of if they were not collected.

At a gas-to-energy landfill facility, such as the one in Lake Mills, the gases are collected, purified and burned to generate electricity.

It takes just one person to run the power plant, with some assistance from the landfill manager. The plant is clean on the inside, where all the tubes and tanks are carefully labeled &8220;breather exhaust,&8221; &8220;exhaust,&8221; &8220;landfill gas&8221; or &8220;jacket water.&8221;

&8220;I find real beauty in this landfill,&8221; said Bill Berg, Dairyland&8217;s president and chief executive officer. &8220;Renewable energy out of trash. On paper, this is a small power plant, but its impact is anything but small.&8221;

Dairyland is a cooperative of power companies in the upper midwest.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the project has the same effect as removing emissions equivalent to 4,900 vehicles, reducing oil consumption by 60,000 barrels or planting 7,000 acres of forest.

Though the official ribbon-cutting for the Central Disposal Landfill in Lake Mills was Friday, the plant has already generated 18 million kilowatt-hours of electricity with its six engines that run about 95 percent of the time.

After a few speeches, people who attended the ribbon-cutting got a facility tour and a light lunch.

The trash from the light lunch may well end up powering a lightbulb somewhere else.