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This is a story of how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure – literally!

Landfills are not traditionally thought of as places that can be productive for society – after all, they are made up of our refuse. But NECA contractors across the country, including O’Connell Electric from Rochester, NY, and their IBEW partners, are taking the smell out of landfills and making a clean burning, renewable power source out of it.

You know, our world has a lot of people – and with a lot of people comes a lot of trash. It’s a problem that’s plagued landfill owners and municipalities for hundreds of years – how do you take the disgusting mess that people throw away and turn it into something useful? The NECA-IBEW team has become part of the solution – building Landfill Gas to Energy generating plants.

Landfills are dirty places – but what comes out of them can be a green solution for municipalities and landfill owners – landfill gas burned for electricity.

This is how it works: trash deposited in a landfill contains organic matter that is digested by microbes in the absence of oxygen, creating methane gas. Normally, this methane would be burned off by the landfill to reduce odor, but in this case, vacuum wells are placed on the surface of the landfill to actively pump gas into a compressor. The gas is then stripped of contaminants and pumped into a combustion engine, where it fuels the creation of electricity for hundreds, and even thousands of homes by tying into the electrical grid.

Landfill Gas to Energy projects are popping up all over the country, and NECA contractor O’Connell Electric has cornered the market in upstate New York .

Tom Parkes, COO, O’Connell Electric
“We’ve been in landfill gas since probably the mid ‘90s there. And we’ve done that all over the place. Just like wind, following that, solar, following that.”

Two projects stand out among the rest for their novel approaches to generating electricity for citizens: the Delaware County Waste to Energy facility near Walton, NY and the Hyland Landfill Renewable Energy Facility in Angelica, NY.

The Delaware County facility is a single reciprocating engine that generates nearly one megawatt of electricity.

Greg Starheim, CEO and GM, Delaware County Electric Cooperative
“We’re taking the methane gas that’s produced through anaerobic digestion of the solid waste and we’re burning it in an engine to produce 1,000 kw of electrical power.”

O’Connell’s and their IBEW crew’s work at the facility was a three-step process: the building of the pad, wiring the plant itself and building a utility interconnect to step up the voltage for the grid.

Paul DeAndrea, DCEC, Engineering Manager
“We stepped the voltage up here at the site through voltage transformation from 480 volts to 12,470 volts. We also have a protective system that can utilize the relaying that we have here, on site, that can protect the utility and our own equipment, so in case there’s a fault or abnormal operation in the power system, we don’t damage their equipment and our equipment doesn’t get damaged either.”

Tim Ehmann, Senior Project Manager, O’Connell Electric
“We actually have technicians who have extensive training in relay protection and testing that definitely bring the thing all together and into the utility interface for the site.”

The gas itself is safe to burn and burning is a win-win for all parties – by both reducing harm to the surrounding community by reducing odor and generating clean electricity for their use.

Greg Starheim, CEO and GM, Delaware County Electric Cooperative
“For the most part, all the methane that was created by this solid waste was diffusing into the atmosphere, and as you may know, methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. As a nonprofit utility, we’re able to rely on this power with a fairly predictable cost structure.”

The Hyland Landfill in Angelica is a bit bigger than the Delaware County site, but the idea is essentially the same.

The Hyland facility is capable of generating 4.8 megawatts of power, with capacity for another 1.6 megawatts in the future. The plant was completed in 2008 and the landfill, which opened in 1998, continues to accept around half a ton of trash per day from the surrounding community.

Jerry Leone, director Sustainable development, Casella Waste Systems, Inc.
“The construction and development of the power plant at the Hyland landfill was a fairly challenging undertaking.”

Phillip Yandow, project manager, O’Connell
“There’s a substation that sits right outside the plant that boosts the voltage from the 4160 that’s generated by the three generators up to 34,500 which is the transmission voltage that brings it here to the three ring substation. The next phase once that was completed was to construct a 7-mile line to carry the power here and of course this interconnection point where it ties to the utility.”

Landfill owners and utilities can rest assured in knowing that NECA contractors and their IBEW partners across the country have the know-how to make highly technical and cutting-edge jobs like this happen.

Phillip Yandow, Project Manager, O’Connell Electric
“We’re taking basically a resource that’s untapped and utilizing it to generate not just electricity, but it generates jobs for people that are involved with this project. It’s really a win-win situation.”

O’Connell Electric is a great example of what so many NECA contractors do well. Landfill gas to Energy programs like these are just one aspect of a NECA contractor’s green toolbox. A good way to start thinking about your own project like this is by heading over to www.necanet.org. There, you’ll find a bunch of project examples of how NECA contractors do what they do best.