Garbage Power: Landfill Generates Enough Energy For 4,000 Homes

Jun 30, 2014

Gasses produced inside the South Wake Landfill are being used generate power for Duke Energy's grid.
Credit Rebecca Martinez / WUNC

The South Wake Landfill in Apex is putting its garbage to work. Wake County recently hosted an open house for its landfill gas power plant.

Solid Waste Director John Roberson said the plant is making money and producing electricity from the garbage that's decomposing inside the dump and cutting down on bad smells there.

“The landfill, regardless of what we do, is going to create landfill gas. And landfill gas is typically composed of about 50 percent methane and other constituents,” Roberson explained. “Basically, some of that gas will escape the fill and basically it becomes sort of an odor issue over time.”

Roberson says the county pumps the landfill gas up to a plant built there by INGENCO that burns the methane and sends the resulting power into Duke Energy's grid. He acknowledged that it's probably not a huge portion of Duke's portfolio, but said it has other upsides, especially because the fuel is free and flows constantly.

“We can be counted upon by Duke to be there. And basically it does allow them to modify, adjust their power production accordingly, and that's why it has a fairly significant benefit to them, and why they're willing to pay for it.”

Roberson said the plant cost the county $2 million to build in 2008, and revenue from power generation brings about $40,000 dollars back in per month. He said the plant is expected to grow over the next 15 years.