Lack of funding stalls Waste Management gas-to-energy project


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ST. THOMAS - A gas-to-energy project that was supposed to earn the V.I. Waste Management Authority up to $1 million annually is not looking as promising as it did when it was announced two-and-a-half years ago.

The V.I. Waste Management Authority in 2011 said it would harness methane gas from the Bovoni Landfill. The agency then would sell the gas to the V.I. Water and Power Authority, which would use the gas to create electricity.

"They're trying to turn a waste product into a revenue stream," said Karl Knight, director of the V.I. Energy Office.

However, Waste Management has been unable to capture as much methane as it had originally hoped. Waste Management officials would not answer questions about the project Tuesday.

It is unclear how much methane the Waste Management Authority expected to collect or how much it is getting.

"The wrinkle now is realistically how much can be generated," Knight said.

The project has two obstacles in its way, including the need for a cap-and-cover, or an impermeable layer over the landfill that would harness a greater portion of the methane, allowing Waste Management to sell more of it.

Additionally, though Waste Management has the facilities in place to run the methane collection, it still needs to figure out how it can connect the project to WAPA's electricity grid.

While Waste Management received a federal grant to fund the construction of its methane-capturing facility, which was completed in August 2011, it has not found funding to connect the project to WAPA's power grid.

Connecting it to the grid would entail connecting the generator via poles, lines, transformers and possibly a small substation - not an easy, or inexpensive - feat, Knight said.

WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said Tuesday evening that he was unavailable to answer questions about how much connecting the project to the grid would cost or where funding for the effort might be found.

If the project works out, it could benefit the territory environmentally and financially, according to previous statements from Waste Management Executive Director May Adams Cornwall.

Methane gas, which is a "potent greenhouse gas," according to Knight, naturally leaks from landfills and can be harmful to the environment.

If Waste Management can figure out how to realize the potential of the project, there also is a possibility that the Waste Management Authority then can try a similar effort with the Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix, according to previous statements from Cornwall.

Waste Management's attempts to harness methane and sell it to WAPA may continue to be a lesser priority until the Waste Management Authority is able to get both of its landfills in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards, Knight said.

WAPA and the Waste Management Authority will move forward once they both have the means and the resources to do so, he said.

"There's no need to rush the project," Knight said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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