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Landfill touted as energy boon

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward with plans to capture methane emissions at the Clayton County Landfill in Lovejoy, in order to leverage the gas as a financial resource.

The county will extract gas from the landfill in order to sell it as energy, while at the same time, earning carbon credits that can be traded on the open market, according to county Transportation and Development Department officials.

The board voted unanimously to approve the project, which will fall under a $5.5 million, 10-year agreement with Trane, Inc., already underway, to make the county's buildings more energy efficient. Under the agreement, Trane will construct an extraction system at the landfill and measure the amount of methane captured, while Trinity Carbon Management, LLC, will broker the county's carbon credits.

Transportation and Development Department Director Jeff Metarko said the agreement would limit the county's liability, if the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) ever decides the county landfill is producing too many methane emissions. He said the project also has the potential to generate revenue through the sell of the gas and carbon credits.

"It's really going to depend on the composition of the trash, and how mother nature works," to determine how much methane gas can be collected," Metarko said. However, "the revenue we are going to generate from it makes it a sound financial investment. We should be able to capture, and possibly resell it to Georgia Power as an energy source. Since we are reducing this gas in the atmosphere, we qualify for carbon credits.

"These big electrical companies that produce a lot of pollution, this is something they can use to reduce the fines they pay. It's almost like a commodity. It's another revenue source," Metarko added.

According to the web site for Carbon Futures, an international company that trades carbon credits, "a carbon credit is created when one metric ton of carbon dioxide is prevented from entering the atmosphere." Carbon credits are mostly purchased by governments and corporations that "have a legal or moral duty to reduce their carbon footprint" and can be sold on the open market, according to the web site.

Metarko said Trane is presently working on the design of the of carbon extraction system, which he said will eventually have to be permitted by the Georgia EPD.

In another action, members of the board of commissioners expressed interest in a plan which would allow the county to use inmate labor, rather than private contractors, to conduct forced clean-ups of properties the county considers abandoned. The plan, if successful, would eventually allow the county to assign tax liens, rather than property liens, on owners who fail to pay for the forced clean-ups.

Clayton County Interim Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas introduced the idea during a presentation before the board on Tuesday. "We have been engaged in forced clean-up projects, where we have been spending approximately a quarter of million dollars a year to force-clean properties, primarily properties which have either, gone into foreclosure, that people may have not maintained ... [where] grass has not been cut and pools have been left abandoned," Cohilas said.

"In this fiscal year, that budget had been cut from a quarter of a million to $200,000. It's been clear from the statistics that the number of properties needing attention has grown."

A report Cohilas offered to the board stated that the "force-clean budget for FY 2010 is already exhausted with two months remaining" and that there are "128 open projects that can not be scheduled, due to lack of funds." The report suggested that, "if the county had an in-house crew, they could continue to address these needs."

Cohilas suggested that forced clean-ups be conducted by a driver and an overseer from the Refuse Control Department. The overseer would direct the necessary inmate labor to cut grass, board up houses, secure swimming pools, and complete other maintenance tasks, he said. According to Cohilas, the switch from contract to in-house labor would save the county "$100,000 to $125,000 a year."

Cohilas said the county has also had trouble collecting from individuals whose properties have been the subject of a forced cleaning. He suggested to the board that the county would be able to recoup the associated costs more rapidly, if it assigned tax liens to the owners. "Right now, there is no incentive to pay until the owner sells the property," Cohilas said. "We are trying to incentivize the process."

Staff Attorney Michael Smith suggested a legislative request would be required to enable the county to assign tax liens, rather than property liens.

By unanimous consent, the board asked Cohilas to bring the item back to the board in the form of a motion during it's next business meeting.