Appalachian State University has agreed to buy carbon credits resulting from an old Wilkes County landfill project that prevents the release of methane gas into the atmosphere.

Under a contract approved by the Wilkes County commissioners on Nov. 6 and by ASU, the university will pay the county $4.44 per metric ton of carbon credit resulting from a methane gas utilization project at the old county landfill off Germantown Road in Moravian Falls.

County Planning Director Eddie Barnes said during the Nov. 6 meeting that Appalachian agreed to also pay $7,700 for an estimated 1,733.4 metric tons of carbon credit produced by the methane gas project since 2012.

“The $7,700 is really a gift to us because Appalachian is doing this as a good will (act)…. Appalachian wants to be a green community and do this locally if possible,” said Barnes.

The university is buying carbon credits from Wilkes County government and other sources with funds donated by ASU faculty, staff and students through the Appalachian Office of Sustainability’s Carbon Neutral Commuter program.

Jim Dees, Appalachian program specialist, said the purchased carbon credits are intended to offset carbon dioxide emissions resulting from people driving to and from campus. He said the program illustrates how ASU works to raise awareness of environmental issues and provide local opportunities for equal positive impacts or offsets.

“The benefit to the university is not a financial one, but rather a tool in the arsenal used to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050,” Dees added.

One carbon credit (or carbon offset) is viewed as offsetting one metric ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases such as methane. When greenhouse gases are released into the air, they absorb the sun’s heat, warm the atmosphere and cause global warming. Deteriorating landfill garbage is a primary source of methane released into the air.

When the old county landfill was closed after two decades of use in 1993, it was covered with tons of dirt and a synthetic liner. Four 6-inch pipes were installed 40 feet into the ground to release methane and avoid safety risks from it building up underground.

The county received an N.C. Energy Office grant of $358,635 to install a system to collect and use this methane to produce electricity in 2011. It includes a candlestick flare to burn off methane if it isn’t consumed to produce energy.

The grant funded a V-8 engine to generate electricity and reimbursed Duke Energy for its cost ($30,917) for equipment to transfer electricity from the system to the grid.

Duke Energy must buy the electricity under state legislation mandating that utility companies use certain amounts of energy from renewable sources. It was initially estimated that Duke would pay the county about $26,000 annually based on a maximum capacity of 85 kilowatts of electricity per hour. Barnes said it has been $12,000 to $14,000 annually.

A greenhouse was built at the old landfill with the grant. The methane utilization system heated the greenhouse, but it hasn’t been used for over two years and was damaged by wind on Oct. 23. It was leased to a corporation affiliated with the United Methodist Church as a subsidiary of Rural Faith Development Community Development Corp. to help make healthy food available locally.

Barnes said the contract with ASU began Nov. 6 and can be terminated by either party with a 30-day notice. It requires that the methane be burned off with the flare or used to produce electricity.

He said he’ll review the project with commissioners next year before the contract expires on Dec. 31, 2018. If both parties agree, the contract can be renewed then.

Barnes said the system has been down for an extended period for rebuilding the engine, but otherwise it runs 24 hours a day every day. He said the county generally spends about $5,000 annually on maintenance. Eric McGee of McGee Environmental is paid by the hour for service work.

Commissioner Gary Blevins said changes may be needed if maintenance costs exceed what the county is paid for electricity. Barnes said he would monitor this.

The contract says ASU will buy carbon credits from the county if they are produced, but it doesn’t require that the county produce them. The contract includes changes made by County Attorney Tony Triplett. An attorney for Appalachian also reviewed it.

Stan Steury, research scientist at the ASU Energy Center, said the project produced 978,720 kilowatt hours of electricity before it was shut down in December 2016 for engine repairs. He said the energy center asked ASU’s Office of Sustainability about buying carbon credits from Wilkes County government.

Steury said the old landfill off Germantown Road doesn’t produce enough methane to interest many carbon investors and third party verification of carbon destruction there would be too expensive. “Our carbon offset contract is feasible because we will “self-verify” the carbon destruction.”

He helped start the methane gas utilization project at the old landfill in Moravian Falls and similar projects at old landfills in several other counties when he was executive director of the Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council. At ASU, Steury has continued this work.

He said a carbon brokering company offered to pay the entire cost of a methane collection system at the Wilkes County landfill in Roaring River about two years ago. Steury said this was rejected because the Wilkes Solid Waste Department didn’t want it.

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