COLUMBIA — The chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality visited Columbia on Wednesday morning, visiting with city officials downtown before touring the Biogas Energy Plant located at the city landfill.
Nancy Sutley, who also serves as the principal environmental policy adviser to President Barack Obama, said she travels the country to talk with municipal leaders about their efforts in generating renewable energy.
"As we thought about coming to Missouri," Sutley said, "Columbia stood out as a community that was doing a lot in clean energy and in the environment and someplace we wanted to hear and see what was going on."
Mayor Bob McDavid, City Manager Mike Matthes and other city officials spent an hour with Sutley inside the offices of the Regional Economic Development Inc. explaining Columbia's efforts to increase renewable energy, which currently accounts for 2 percent of Columbia's total energy.
McDavid said Columbia's sustained growth will necessitate the need for alternative energy sources, including wind, solar and biomass, as well as increasing efficiency at the Biogas Energy Plant.
"Challenges remain ahead," he said.
Following the roundtable discussion, Sutley visited the plant at the city landfill with Christian Johanningmeier, Columbia's power production superintendent, and Ronnie Tennill, a technician supervisor.
Johanningmeier explained how trash at the landfill decomposes and produces methane. The gas is run through engines hooked up to 1-megawatt generators, which create electricity for the city. Any excess gas is burned.
"Methane gas is a greenhouse gas, so it is more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide is," Johanningmeier said. "So you're better off taking the methane, doing something with it, converting it to carbon dioxide, because it's actually less damaging to the planet than in methane form."
The plant has an output of 2.1 megawatts, supplying about 1.5 percent of Columbia's energy use per year and enough power to supply approximately 1,500 homes. The city hopes the plant will increase output enough to meet 2.5 percent of Columbia's power within five to 10 years.
"Well I think it's very impressive to see a community taking advantage of what they have," Sutley said. "And the fact that the city owns the utility and the landfill creates an opportunity that in some communities would be harder to do. So that's great to see them taking advantage of the assets they have."
Sutley was scheduled to conclude her visit with a roundtable discussion with MU students this afternoon before returning to Washington on Wednesday night.