m-bathcarboncredits-013009 City hopes to turn methane into money

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BATH — City staff are looking into a program to turn methane burned off at the city landfill into dollars for the city’s coffers.
“It’s the concept that out there you have people who are interested in lowering their … carbon footprint,” or amount of greenhouse gas emissions, Public Works Director Peter Owen explained last week. “They may not be able to lower (their own), but they’re willing to invest in someone else who is lowering theirs.”
People trying to earn those so-called carbon credits do so by essentially buying their reduction, or offsetting their output, Owen said.
Bath’s landfill emits methane, but installation last year of a gas management system burns off that gas to eradicate foul odors and reduce the landfill’s carbon footprint. Methane stays in the atmosphere for 15 to 20 years and is about 20 times more effective than carbon in holding in heat, hence its designation as a greenhouse gas, Owen said.
“What we have to do is basically prove that we’re lowering our output,” he added, explaining that a third party verifier must confirm that reduction, allowing Bath to be eligible for carbon credits.
Methane has a carbon equivalent of 21, so for each ton of methane the city destroys, it receives 21 credits. Different greenhouse gases have different carbon equivalents.
Those credits then become a commodity that Bath can sell on the carbon credit market, which entities enter on a voluntary basis in the U.S., Owen said. Bath can auction its credits to the highest bidder.
While an emissions-producing entity, for example, might not be able to do anything practical to reduce its own emissions, it can invest in another entity which has been able to do so, Owen explained. “Their benefit is simply peace of mind: they’re trying to do something right for the environment,” he said.
The transfer of money allows credit earners like Bath to afford the investment they have made. “We were trying to eliminate odors, but at the same time we were looking at ‘well, if we do this, we’ll be getting some monetary value out of our emission reduction,” Owen said. “So there’s a monetary benefit, and that helped us pay for (the system).”
Bath voters approved a $4.5 million bond in November 2006 to fund the system, along with installation of a new waste containment cell.
About 700 tons of methane are projected to be burned off this year, Owen said, a number he expects to vary from year to year.
Owen said the city is looking at potential carbon credit revenue of between $20,000 and $75,000 a year.
The city is installing an instrument on the landfill flare that will document the destruction of methane, a more sophisticated model than what exists now and more applicable to the third-party verifier’s specifications. Next up will be obtaining a verifier, with the help of consultants.
“There are only a handful (of verifiers) in the country, so it isn’t like you go out and look in the Yellow Pages,” Owen said, adding that verifiers have very specific experience in the field.
While other municipalities in Maine are looking into entering the carbon credit market, none have yet to sell credits, Owen said, adding that January 2010 is Bath’s deadline to sell credits.
“This is a whole new thing,” he explained. “Someone’s buying something on a market, and they want to know that what they’re buying is something that really exists, because it’s not something you can touch or feel. So they’re relying on the verifier to say ‘yes, this is a legitimate operation, and they’re destroying this much methane’ … So it’s a big deal to have that done.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.
A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.