Not Enough Garbage?

Throwaway Shortage May Alter Power Pact

Posted: June 22, 2013

HARRISONBURG — One need look no further than the Rockingham County Landfill for evidence of the recent economic downturn.

It’s what’s not there that tells the story.

The 2007-09 recession reduced the amount of garbage deposited at the facility off Ridgedale Lane, south of Port Republic Road, officials say.

As a result, the landfill is producing less methane gas than expected when Rockingham County and Rockingham Memorial Hospital entered an agreement in which the county sells the gas to the hospital for use as fuel.

“Trash flows have been less than anticipated,” said Barry Hertzler, the county’s director of public works. “You have more trash, you have more gas. You have less trash, you have less gas.”

The difference is one reason RMH and the county are in the process of amending the 10-year contract they entered into when the hospital moved to its new facility off Port Republic Road southeast of Harrisonburg in June 2010.

For its part, RMH can’t use as much methane as first believed.

Armed with three years of data, hospital and county officials say the idea behind the negotiations is to bring the contract more in line with what’s actually happening.

“It’s really a mutually beneficial discussion we’re having with the county,” RMH Vice President Mark Zimmerman said. “It’s kind of a win-win situation for both of us to tweak this agreement now to better suit our needs.”

Rockingham County is required to capture methane produced at the landfill to prevent migration.

Previously, the landfill would burn off or flare the methane. Reusing the gas as fuel is considered more environmentally friendly because methane is one of the greenhouse gases that scientists say contribute to global climate change.

The county invested $2.5 million in equipment to pipe the gas to RMH, which has earned environmental certifications thanks in part to the project.

The hospital buys the gas at a set rate, and the county will recoup the cost of its investment over the life of the contract, in addition to getting some revenue.

Despite producing less gas than expected, Hertzler said the county would still recoup the cost of its initial investment. And though it may earn less than originally thought, he stressed that the project wasn’t intended to make money.

From the beginning, he said, the goal was to find a use for the methane other than just flaring it off.

“The bottom line was to not put any risk to the county taxpayers,” Hertzler said, “and that’s still the bottom line, even with this adjustment.”

Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or jhunt@dnronline.com


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