Martinsville gets grant to power up with methane

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Martinsville has been hit hard by recent increases in electricity costs, but it has a plan to contain those expenses.  The city in January received a $1 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) State Energy program grant to help it pay for a $3.3 million electric power project. Martinsville will collect methane gas from a municipal landfill, convert it into electricity and power the local electric grid.

Martinsville owns and operates the grid but currently spends $14 million a year to purchase power from American Municipal Power. City Manager Clarence Monday explains that using methane to generate electricity will save the city $500,000 to $1 million a year in power purchase and electric transmission costs. Those savings also include income generated through the sale of carbon credits.

During peak demand, Martinsville electric customers consume 42 megawatts of electricity. The methane project will create 1.5 megawatts of power, or about 3.6 percent of demand.

The city’s electric grid also is supplemented with 1.3 megawatts of power from a nearby hydro-dam. “So basically we are more than doubling the amount of electricity that we generate for ourselves with alternative-energy sources,” Monday says. The city is also investigating adding solar power at the landfill to supplement the methane project.

The project has two phases. In the first phase, valued at $900,000, and already paid for with city dollars, Martinsville will collect and burn off excess methane gas, an environmentally beneficial practice that will allow officials to sell carbon credits on the commodities market.

The second phase, which has an estimated cost of $2.4 million, will enable the electric grid to use methane-generated electricity. Monday says that the stimulus funds will be applied to that phase. To cover the difference, the city is applying for a $333,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification Commission and will borrow the rest. City officials hope to be generating methane-supplied electricity within 12 to 18 months.

Monday says that the municipal landfill, which was closed in 2005, has enough waste to supply the grid with methane-generated electricity for 20 years. He expects the project to create about three jobs, although the city is analyzing whether to outsource the project or operate it internally.

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