Corvallis’ Landfill Produces Local Electricity: Updates on the Horizon?

Three exhaust pipes out the back of the plant mark these as the older 3516 Caterpillar generators. Photo courtesy of Steve King.

The Coffin Butte Resource Project has been utilizing gas from the Coffin Butte Landfill to generate local electricity since 1995—that is, it produces renewable power from a natural by-product of the anaerobic breakdown of organic matter. The landfill gas—a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide—is directed via pipes into gas wells. Over 300 of these wells supply the gas to five internal combustion units, which produce 5.66 megawatts of power—enough to provide electricity to 4,000 average (1,200-1,500 square-foot) homes.

This gas-to-energy project is more efficient than wind or solar generation. Steve King, Generation Resources manager for the Coffin Butte Resource Project says the engine’s output is on the order of nearly 100%.

“The full output of our engines over one year is 97%,” quotes King. “Solar energy usually runs at 20% efficiency and wind energy is more like 25%-35% efficiency.”

The Coffin Butte Resource Project began as a way for local electric utility cooperatives to offer their members a renewable power option. The Power Resource Cooperative owns and operates the Coffin Butte Resource Project, and Consumers Power in Philomath is a 21% subscriber in that cooperative. Roman Gillen, president and CEO of Consumers Power, Inc., says that a major benefit of a power cooperative is driving down the cost of local electricity.

“We are very much cost-focused at Consumers Power. We pride ourselves in being close to our members and are highly motivated to please them,” he adds.

One of the two new 3520 Caterpillar generators. New generator technology allowed for an updated series of equipment to be installed at Coffin Butte. This equipment is incredibly important and durable—the chemicals it collects are anything but friendly. Photo courtesy of Steve King.

In part, Consumers Power, Inc. chose to support the Coffin Butte Resource Project because they needed to diversify their energy resources. At the time the project was proposed, Consumers Power was 100% dependent on hydropower. Now, though they are still over 90% reliant on hydropower, they supplement their electricity with that produced at the Coffin Butte Landfill.

“It turns out,” explains Gillen, “Generating electricity from methane is very cost effective.  We continue to work closely with Valley Landfill, Inc. to optimize gas production.”

An important question remains: why isn’t the gas delivered straight into homes from the landfill? King says it’s a matter of infrastructure.

“The fact is, while we would love to simply deliver gas, the infrastructure already exists to run our internal combustion engines,” explains King. “Now, we are focusing on what to do with the waste heat generated during the process of creating electricity.”

Gillen adds that Consumers Power Resources, Inc. is looking into how to capture the waste heat and use it to generate even more electricity. Other proposed ideas include heating for greenhouses and even piping heat to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.

Importantly, Gillen feels that participation in an electricity co-op provides an incredible opportunity for building strong local relationships.

“The different companies all work together to figure out how to best make use of the Coffin Butte Resource Project,” says Gillen. “It really is a symbiotic relationship.”

by Lisa Tedder