Catoosa County, Ga., officials worried they'd have to dip into financial reserves at the end of the year to balance the budget.
Instead, the county was in the black — thanks in part, officials say, to a new methane gas-to-electricity generator at the sealed-off Catoosa County landfill at the end of Shope Ridge Road.
The county earned $598,340 from electricity produced at the former landfill.
"We've completed our first year of operation," county Chief Financial Officer Carl Henson said. "And it has done very well."
The heart of the system is a German-made V-12 engine fed with methane gas pumped out of 88 wells that dot the landfill's grassy slopes. The engine drives a generator that produces enough kilowatts to power some 200 homes.
Before installing the $2 million generator system, the county burned the landfill gas in a flare. Catoosa paid from its general fund to cover the $280,000 annual cost of maintaining the landfill, which closed in 2005. Expenses include sending liquid runoff called leachate through sewer pipes for treatment at the Moccasin Bend sewage plant.
The state requires the county to monitor and maintain the landfill until 2035 -- which would have been a roughly $6 million to $7 million burden on the general fund.
Now, revenue from selling landfill gas electricity to the Tennessee Valley Authority's Green Power Providers program has eliminated the burden on the general fund.
"Now, it's self-supporting," Henson said.
When revenue from electricity sales exceeds the cost of landfill maintenance — as it has this year — that surplus goes into a special landfill fund, Henson said.
TVA spokesman Mike Bradley said electricity generated from methane at the 11 landfills and sewage plants in the Green Power Providers program generates 9.77 megawatts -- enough electricity for about 5,000 homes.
Thanks to landfill electricity revenue and other factors, Catoosa County's overall budget came out $467,000 ahead this year, Henson said. That money was added to the county's roughly $12 million in reserves.
County Commission Chairman Keith Greene praised the landfill generator.
"The gas-to-energy project has been a win for the county," he said. "We used to have to set money aside for landfill closure. We're using the gas-to-energy project to help us maintain the landfill."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.