The proverbial link between trash and treasure has evolved into a symbiotic relationship between energy and efficiency with the coming of a renewable-energy power plant to Irvine's Bowerman Landfill.
The Bowerman Power Project went into operation this week, converting methane gas, a byproduct of landfill trash, into enough electricity to power 26,000 homes.
With Bowerman joining the Olinda Landfill in Brea and the Prima Deshecha Landfill in San Juan Capistrano as a renewable-energy site, all of Orange County's major waste-disposal facilities now have gas-to-electricity plants.
Bowerman's facility adds 160,000 megawatt-hours annually to the grid. It brings the total annual electricity production at Orange County's landfills to 380,000 megawatt-hours, enough for 56,000 homes.
"It's taking landfill gas that we'd otherwise have to burn and putting it to a beneficial use for the good of the community," said Dylan Wright, director of OC Waste & Recycling. "We're trying to stay ahead of the game, stay on the cutting edge."
The decomposition of the millions of tons of waste buried at a landfill creates gas that contains high amounts of methane.
"For decades, we've taken all this trash in and we've simply burned the gas off into the air. Now we're capturing it and we're converting it to energy," said Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, whose district includes the Bowerman Landfill. He served as host during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Bowerman on Tuesday.
More than 100 visitors attended to hear speakers and take a tour of the power facility.
Bowerman's 113,000-square-foot plant occupies 2.6 acres of the 725-acre landfill. It features seven state-of-the-art Caterpillar reciprocating engines that convert compressed and cleaned methane gas into electricity. It was built at a cost of $60 million by developer, owner and operator Bowerman Power, a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based Montauk Energy. It is Montauk's largest power project to date, according to a news release.
The county will receive $1.62 million annually in a 20-year agreement with Bowerman Power/Montauk.
The plant will sell the electricity to Anaheim Public Utilities to power homes, businesses and schools.
The ribbon cutting came just 14 months after the facility's groundbreaking. "To see that something like that could be put together in a relatively short period of time in a highly regulated environment like California is nothing short of miraculous," Spitzer said.
"Even though the 14-month time frame seems quick, there's a long time behind that," Montauk Energy President and Chief Executive David Herrman said after the ceremony. He said that although the plant's modular components were shipped and assembled relatively quickly, the energy conversion company had been negotiating with Orange County since acquiring the landfill gas rights in the late 1990s.
"It's a culmination of events that came into place all at the right time," Herrman said. "That's all we do is landfill gas projects. This is all we've ever done, even before it was stylish to do it."
A dozen high school students from the YMCA Youth and Government program attended the ceremony as a lesson in progressive environmental programs.
"I didn't know much about this coming here, and it's really cool to learn about the change they're making in the community," said Joanna Chen, a senior at Woodbridge High School in Irvine.