One Person’s Trash… How a Good Idea and Real Teamwork Can Make A Difference

Does it make sense to say that one could save 6,500 gallons of home heating oil each day just by taking out the trash?  Seems like a stretch, right?  It’s not just a stretch, it’s happening around the nation right now. If you follow the waste stream to and through a landfill, you’ll find what others discovered about 25 years ago.  Landfill gas can be captured and burned to offset our use of conventional fossil fuels.  So something we do every day without much thought can actually produce enough energy to save fuel oil each day.  Convert that energy to electricity and you could power up to 5,000 homes.

The science is complicated but the process is simple.  Methane gas that builds up inside landfills is being directed, collected and burned in generators to create clean power and offset conventional energy use nationwide.  Rath, Young and Pignatelli Law Firm in Concord, New Hampshire, is a leader in helping to bring these operations on line and providing renewable energy resources to businesses and residents throughout the country.

Just off of Route 140 in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, the Crapo Hill Landfill is the last new landfill that was permitted and opened in New England.  It opened its gates in 1995. Methane gas has been used to create electricity for the area since 2005.

Tom Yeransian is a principal of Commonwealth Resource Management Corporation, which operates a methane gas power plant operation at the landfill. “We are taking an unpopular operation, landfills, and we’re turning them into a positive.  The closer you might live to one, the more likely you would be to be opposed to a landfill being opened.  But if you take the operation and find a way to create electricity from an otherwise wasted resource, it makes a real impact on public opinion,” explains Yeransian.

Here’s how a landfill gas plant works.  Bacteria in the landfill break down organic waste, creating methane gas as a byproduct.  Methane gas is a greenhouse gas that is considered a significant cause of climate change. It can be dangerous when it accumulates, so it must be vented or actively collected at landfills. If the methane gas was not used to generate electricity, it would simply be collected and burned in a flare.  Instead of simply burning the gas, Yeransian pipes the methane to fuel special generators that convert the methane gas into electricity in a nearby power plant.  The project at Crapo Hill Landfill can power up to 5,000 houses a day.

The biggest risk in the operation is not the safety of piping and burning the methane gas… it’s simply trying to figure out how much gas will be produced from day to day.  There are several variables:  Construction of the landfill, moisture, rain, what’s actually being placed in the landfill.  All of these factors contribute to a sometimes wide-ranging daily output of methane gas. “There’s a whole host of issues that go into the output of fuel.  We have to monitor it constantly. One thing we do know is over several years, the gas output will increase and reach a peak, then slowly begin a decline,” says Yeransian.  Crapo Hill Landfill will provide power through 2023, when the project wraps up.

These variables make it a challenge to create a business plan, and it requires expertise in regulations, incentives, financing terms and other legal requirements to make it all work.  That’s why Yeransian uses Rath, Young and Pignatelli’s “Energy Group” to help secure the incentives, obtain financing, and negotiate terms of the contracts.  “Attorney Chuck Willing negotiated contract terms with the local refuse district to approve of the operation.  Next, he negotiated the deal with Constellation Energy Group to use the electricity the landfill could provide.  Then, the Rath Young and Pignatelli Energy Group assisted in arranging to sell Massachusetts Renewable Energy Credits and claim federal Production Tax Credits to turn the entire project into a revenue producer.  “We have such a good relationship with Rath, Young and Pignatelli, that we hire them to help us through all cycles of these proposals,” says Yeransian.

Rath, Young and Pignatelli also negotiated the sale of carbon offsets to another company, AES, which was interested in investing in technology that reduces the release of dangerous methane gas into the atmosphere.  Bottom line:  this project has been a money maker and an environmentally beneficial project since it went on line in 2005.

There are a number of national firms that can help create the partnerships needed to launch a landfill gas operation.  But Yeransian says you won’t find the type of talent at an affordable price that is available at Rath, Young and Pignatelli.  “For the price, it’s like hiring an NFL coach to run your high school football team,” says Yeransian.

Crapo Hill Landfill is a prime example of a very successful project.  Credit goes to Commonwealth Resource Management Corporation for having the vision to turn the landfill into a renewable energy provider and then developing the project.  But developers need a smart and experienced legal team to help them understand the variables, do the research, watch the market, monitor state and federal requirements and incentives and then get the project on-line. The Rath, Young and Pignatelli Energy Group can identify additional benefits and negotiate agreements that minimize risk and account for the variables in the science of collecting methane gas from a landfill. Yeransian is very pleased…“I can’t say enough good things about the Rath, Young and Pignatelli Law Firm.”