'We create electricity off of your rotting garbage'

EUGENE, Ore. -- If you've ever been to a dump, you know how it smells.

"Methane gas is just a natural, reoccurring gas," said operator Doug Hoover at the Short Mountain Methane Power Plant on Monday. "It's the byproduct of decomposition."

"And we create electricity off of your rotting garbage," he added.

Hoover has been turning waste into watts since the power plant became operational on March 5, 1992.

Twenty years ago to the day, Hoover operated two 16-cylinder combustion engines. Now, after a plant upgrad, two more engines were added.

"It's just like a generator you'd have at home that you're firing with gas," said Hoover outside the plant in South Eugene. "But we're using methane instead of gasoline."

Inside the plant, technician Jason Rice maintains the engines, makes necessary repairs and keeps the facility in working order to convert methane gas into electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We only turn the engines off when we need to make repairs," said Rice in a workshop inside the plant on Monday.

"It's kind of like being a diesel mechanic or an auto mechanic," he added, "just a larger engine that costs a whole lot more."

Hoover said each engine costs almost $500,000. But he said the entire plant paid for itself after seven years of operation.

Since then, Emerald People's Utility District (EPUD) has been able to use revenue generated by the plant to offset costs to customers in Lane County.

"It was our record year for production," said Hoover.

And the plant produced enough electricity in 2011 to power 1,500 homes for the entire year.

Spokeswoman for EPUD told KVAL News that is one million more kilowatt hours than the previous year.

Since the plant became operational it has produced a total of 342.5 million kilowatt hours.

Hoover said increases in productivity are due to multiple factors: growing landfill size, improved landfill practices, additional wells and section closures.

Out of all the improved landfill practices, Hoover said the most effective one has been innovative methane drilling.

Rather than drilling vertically into an already closed dumpsite, Hoover said engineers have been placing horizontal wells into position before closing off sections of the landfill. Then, garbage is piled on top over time.

Hoover said this method is much more cost effective, and methane extraction can start sooner.

He said the horizontal wells allow methane gas to be captured up to 10 years earlier compared to a vertical well, which can only be drilled once a dumpsite is capped.

"What we produce here helps offset other costs," said Hoover.

Hoover said the landfill is nearing peak production, but will continue to produce methane well into the future.