After a decade of delays, the city is finally about to capture and burn the greenhouse gases produced by rotting garbage at the city dump.
The Brady Road Landfill is the province's second-biggest greenhouse gas polluter, and the country's 24th-largest. New data from Environment Canada show the dump's emissions increased by four per cent in 2011, reaching 380,000 tonnes. That's about the same weight as 31,000 Greyhound buses.
But city solid waste officials hope they can cut those emissions in half once a methane-capture system starts working next month, said Irvin Slike, project co-ordinator at the city's solid waste division.
Rotting garbage in landfills produces methane and carbon dioxide. Both are greenhouse gases, but methane has a global warming potential at least 21 times that of carbon dioxide. Now, more than 40 wells have been dug deep into an old section of the landfill. About seven kilometres of underground pipes help suck the methane out of the dump's depths and funnel it to a flare, where it's burned off.
The methane-capture system is sized to eventually fit the entire dump, and it can be upgraded to turn the methane into heat or electricity -- the original idea, a decade ago.
Until now, Winnipeg's has been one of the few major urban landfills without a methane capture and burning process.
A plan to catch up was hatched in 2002 when the city, province and Manitoba Hydro announced a feasibility study. After that, a plan to use the captured gas to heat the University of Manitoba fizzled. In 2009, following a request for proposals, a proponent willing to capture and flare the landfill gas was found but the deal fell through. By then, the city and province had abandoned the idea of using the dump gas for heat or power, largely because market conditions were keeping natural gas prices low and Manitoba Hydro is loath to buy power that's more expensive than it can produce from northern dams.
"I got over that disappointment a long time ago," said Coun. Dan Vandal, who chairs council's public works committee. "This is still an incredibly positive thing for the city."
If half the landfill's emissions do get burned off by the methane flare, that could be a shot in the arm for the province's stalled Kyoto Protocol goals. The province promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, but has acknowledged it has fallen well short of that target. Between 2009 and 2011, Manitoba managed to cut its emissions by only 100 or 200 kilotons a year. The landfill's new methane capture could accomplish that in one fell swoop.
The current $5.5-million project is funded in part by $2.5 million from the province.
Focusing on simply capturing and flaring the gas helped the city kickstart construction. Finally getting the system installed is satisfying, said Darcy Strandberg, acting manager of the solid waste division.
"It's a sense of accomplishment," he said.
Visitors to the dump will be able to see the methane-capture equipment, including the 12-metre flaring stack. But the flaring will produce no visible flame and no smell.
Slike and Strandberg said once the methane-capture system is running, there will be testing to determine how much landfill gas is being captured, how much is left, and the quality of the gas.
An early study suggests Brady's methane is good quality, making it more likely it could be used for power or heat down the line.