MARYLAND HEIGHTS — Garbage at a St. Louis County landfill will help generate enough electricity to power thousands of homes under a plan announced Thursday by the utility company AmerenUE.
Gov. Jay Nixon was among those joining Ameren officials at Fred Weber Inc.'s landfill in northwest St. Louis County to tout the "Methane to Megawatts" project expected to be operational by 2011. Financial terms of the agreement between Ameren and Fred Weber were not disclosed.
Nixon said the project "will protect our land, air and water resources and create good jobs at the same time."
The idea isn't new. Nationwide, the federal Environmental Protection Agency counts 480 landfills that use their methane to generate electricity and has targeted 520 others as potential candidates through its Landfill Methane Outreach Program.
Some states are also trying to turn methane from cow waste into electricity — agriculture accounts for about one-third of U.S. methane released into the atmosphere. Methane also comes from coal mines and oil refineries, and is considered the No. 2 greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, after carbon dioxide.
Ameren officials say the St. Louis County project will be the largest methane-to-power plant in Missouri and among the largest in the nation, generating 15 megawatts of electricity — roughly enough to power 10,000 homes.
AmerenUE CEO Warner Baxter said the project will benefit customers, the region and the state.
"Methane to Megawatts is consistent with our commitment to generate cleaner, reliable energy while meeting our customers' expectations for renewable power at a reasonable cost," Baxter said.
Microorganisms in material at landfills such as food waste and yard clippings cause natural decomposition of much of that material, producing methane gas. A blower plant will constantly deliver 6,000 cubic feet of landfill gas per minute to turbines installed at the Fred Weber landfill. The gas is collected through 120 wells connected by two miles of plastic pipes.
The blower plant already delivers landfill gas for another Fred Weber operation, its asphalt plant and to nearby Pattonville High School and Jaeger Greenhouses, where it is used to generate heat. Those operations will continue once Ameren begins to use the methane gas.
Construction of the turbines is expected to begin next year.
"The community gets a reliable source of electric power from a renewable resource that doesn't emit additional carbon dioxide to the atmosphere," said Tom Dunne Jr., president of Fred Weber Inc.
AmerenUE is a subsidiary of Ameren Corp. AmerenUE provides electricity to about 1.2 million customers in central and eastern Missouri.