Landfill gas plan makes economic, environmental sense

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The 2018 Winnipeg municipal election is fast approaching. Candidates for mayor and city council are fanning out across the city to discuss their policies on a variety of locally important issues. Let me pose a question to all running for office: if you had a chance to stop wasting $3 million annually and save 30,000 tonnes of CO2 (which is equal to replacing 6,000 gasoline cars with electric ones), would you do it?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/10/2018 (1503 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The 2018 Winnipeg municipal election is fast approaching. Candidates for mayor and city council are fanning out across the city to discuss their policies on a variety of locally important issues. Let me pose a question to all running for office: if you had a chance to stop wasting $3 million annually and save 30,000 tonnes of CO2 (which is equal to replacing 6,000 gasoline cars with electric ones), would you do it?

Naturally, the answer should be: yes, but how?

Currently, landfill biogas equal in value to about $3 million of natural gas annually collected at the Brady Road Resource Management Facility is being flared and wasted. This is like running a wood stove on stacks of dollar bills. Instead, this landfill gas could be cleaned, a pipeline to University of Manitoba Fort Garry Campus built and the boilers on campus upgraded to displace most of the natural gas used in the campus power plant.

The university has the only district energy system located near the Brady Road facility. District energy systems produce hot water, steam or chilled water at a central plant and then distribute the energy through underground pipes to buildings connected to the system.

The overall project could be funded through the federal Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund, which is made available to support exactly these types of initiatives with clear carbon benefits. Once in operation, the project would result in immediate greenhouse gas savings and serve as a model for similar activities across Canada. It would help with the Efficiency Manitoba mandate of reducing natural gas usage in Manitoba by 0.75 per cent annually over the next 15 years.

So what’s holding us back? The choice of technology is not the issue. As long as there is a nearby user, burning landfill biogas for district heating is the clear economic choice. Making electric power or upgrading the gas to feed it into existing natural gas pipelines are generally more costly options and only used if there is no nearby demand for heat.

Landfill biogas cleaning, compression, piping and combustion technologies are well established with no additional studies required to prove technical feasibility. There are several hundred full-scale case studies at a variety of locations in North America. There is even an example of using landfill biogas at a university campus (the University of New Hampshire), where gas is being piped from a landfill 20.3 kilometres away — which is more than twice the distance between the Brady Road facility and the U of M’s Fort Garry campus.

The status quo is sometimes hard to break. But business as usual on issues of sustainability is becoming increasingly more difficult to justify. Waiting for more studies is not an option; the time to act is now.

Elections are about the future and have the power to reaffirm the belief that democracies can address large issues facing society such as environmental sustainability and climate change. They give citizens a say in what they would like to see and hold their representatives accountable.

A commitment should be made by candidates running in the upcoming municipal elections to move forward on this project and promote a cleaner and smarter Winnipeg.

Nazim Cicek is a professor and associate head of the department of biosystems engineering at the University of Manitoba.

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