Turning Trash into Electricity

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If you spend much time talking to the people of Wabash Valley Power about what we do, chances are good you’ll hear the phrase “deliberately different.” To us, it’s a lot more than a catchy slogan—it’s the guiding principle that led us into our position as an energy industry leader.

When we say we’re “deliberately different,” we mean that we take a proactive approach to our energy supply portfolio. We have learned, through experience, that relying entirely on one or two energy sources can be a risky strategy. It’s a lot like the stock market—if you invest all your money with one company, and that company has a bad year, you’re in some serious trouble.

We choose to be different. We choose to explore and invest in alternative energy sources, and increasingly that means renewable and sustainable energy. By investing in renewables—over $85 million in the last five years alone—we broaden our power supply portfolio to include a diverse fuel mix. That means that if any one energy source falters in the marketplace, we can still fulfill our mission as a not-for-profit utility by providing our members with more affordable energy.

What’s exciting about this is that there’s still a lot left to discover, because renewable and sustainable energy can come from the most unexpected places. Case in point? Landfill gas. It’s exactly what it sounds like—gas produced by the decomposition of trash in our landfills, which can be harvested to produce electricity. And by capturing greenhouse gases that would otherwise naturally release into the air, landfill gas energy projects reduce greenhouse emissions as a consequence.

And consider this: According to the EPA, methane has a global warming potential 25 times greater than CO2. Imagine the impact, then, of the reduced emissions that result from landfill gas projects. And if that wasn’t enough to cheer about, there are other benefits, too. Landfill gas energy projects reduce air pollution by off-setting the use of non-renewable sources from coal and natural gas. It’s also a lower-cost way to generate renewable energy, which helps keep clean energy prices more affordable.

Investing in renewables like landfill gas is also a big win for our communities, thanks to the impact on economic development. In 2002, before green energy became a household concept, Wabash Valley Power took a leadership role in landfill gas projects by partnering with landfill owners. We began investing and operating landfill gas plants across Indiana to supply cleaner, more affordable electricity to 315,000 members throughout its 23 distribution cooperatives located in northern Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.

There are other, more unexpected economic benefits to these communities, too. When it came time to build engines for these plants, for instance, we partnered with Caterpillar, Inc., in Lafayette to build them. Now, 14 years after our first partnership with landfill owners, Wabash Valley Power prepares to dedicate Liberty III. It will be our 16th landfill gas plant, meaning our total investment for all landfill gas projects has reached nearly $26 million while creating nearly 54 MW of electricity.

This kind of investment creates construction jobs and increases the tax base that benefits local communities like White County, home to three of our landfill gas plants (as well as numerous wind projects). According to White County’s economic development president Randy Mitchell, “The landfill gas project joins other alternative energy projects in White County, in addition to our windmills, such as hydroelectric energy and anaerobic digesters. This allows us to build a sustainable future with clean, affordable, reliable, and abundant energy that will serve communities for years to come.”

Through these landfill gas sources, Wabash Valley Power generates 53.6 megawatts of baseload capacity. That’s the equivalent of powering 40,000 average-sized homes with cleaner, reliable energy. We support renewable energy by owning landfill gas generation and purchasing output from wind farms and biogas generators. Separately, we also sell the environmental attributes to members and third parties, generation that isn’t claimed as renewable within our own supply portfolio.

These are just a few of the ways we’re exploring and investing in renewable and sustainable energy sources. As new energy sources are discovered, we’ll be in a good position to invest in those, too. For a not-for-profit utility like us, that’s means more affordable energy for our members. We think that’s proof positive that “deliberately different” is more than a slogan—it’s a strategy.

Jeffrey A. Conrad is chief operating officer of Wabash Valley Power.

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