Golden Triangle landfill turns profit

This plain building on the grounds at the Golden Triangle Solid Waste Landfill actually is a pioneering "green energy" project in the state.
Staff Writer

Six years after going online, one of the state’s first “green energy” projects already is turning a profit.

In 2009, the Golden Triangle Solid Waste Landfill located near the junction of Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties, mined into its covered mounds of trash to release the methane that builds up as garbage decomposes. The methane was burned off to generate what at the time were valuable carbon credits for sale to companies that needed to balance their environmental problems.

But the credits never really gained real value and after watching the big methane torch burn for a year, landfill administrators got the idea of hooking that flame to a generator that would also create electricity. That project opened in September 2011. The first of its kind in Mississippi, it has since been duplicated at landfills elsewhere, including Three Rivers in Pontotoc.

The device generates enough electricity to operate more than 600 homes and the Tennessee Valley Authority buys the power through 4-County Electric at a premium price negotiated when green energy credits were big financial incentives for utilities.

In the more than six years since the one-megawatt generator went on line, the TVA has paid about $5.9 million, according to Golden Triangle Regional Solid Waste Management Authority manager Jimmy Sloan. That means the agency already has covered the generator' s $3.75 million cost plus annual operating expenses.

“It hasn’t made a killing, but it has made a profit. Now, every month we are adding a little to the bottom line,” Sloan said.

The renewable energy credits the TVA got at the time were an important part of the price structure that made the project financially feasible over such a short payback period.

Sloan and his board are considering building a second generator to tap into another area of the landfill. But the political landscape has changed. That may make getting the right financial terms more difficult.
“If the TVA gives us a good deal again, we could do it,” Sloan explained. “If the credits came back, it would pay for it again. It all depends on what happens with politics. If Obama’s cap and trade proposal had passed, it would have worked. You might have seen lots of them.

“But then again, the cost of your electricity probably would have gone up two or three times, too,” he continued.

Sloan has spoken to conferences across the country about the project. He tells landfill operators everywhere the project is worth it if they can get the right price for the electricity. That price is different everywhere depending on utilities, the landfill, and other costs.

The GTSW project was the first of its kind in the state. Since then, green energy has taken other forms in the Golden Triangle. Small solar farms have been erected in Lowndes, Oktibbeha and some other counties. The Southern Cross project may bring wind energy from Texas to the Southeast through Oktibbeha, Clay and Lowndes counties with a major hub in Caledonia. And two companies are considering 1,000-acre solar facilities in Lowndes and eastern Oktibbeha counties.

As “green energy” movement expands, the pioneering project at the landfill almost has been forgotten, in part because it has quietly been so successful.

So for now, Sloan and his team are content to know they were at the forefront of a movement.

“Our landfill is now a community asset contributing to cleaner air and generating a local, less expensive fuel source. That’s pretty cool when you think about it,” Sloan concluded, noting the project is an alternative to about 30,000 tons of pollutants being released into the air each year.