“By reducing the university’s dependence on fossil fuels and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, ECOLine is an environmentally and fiscally responsible initiative. UNH is proud to lead the nation and our peer institutions in this landmark step toward sustainability.”
-- UNH President Mark W. Huddleston
In 2006, UNH's combined heat and power facility - or cogeneration (COGEN) plant - went online. The primary source of heat and electricity for the five-million square foot Durham campus, COGEN retains waste heat normally lost during the production of electricity and instead uses this energy to heat buildings, in turn reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.
- Cost savings: UNH's COGEN, including a chilled water plant, cost an estimated $28 million - all self-financed - with an anticipated payback within 20 years. These savings incorporate the avoided costs of investing in the existing plant for needed renovations.
- Emissions savings: the installation of the COGEN plant resulted in an estimated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 21% in Academic Year (AY) 2006 compared to AY 2005.
In 2009, UNH began using processed landfill gas from the EcoLine project, a landfill gas-to-energy project that uses methane gas from a nearby landfill as the primary fuel for the COGEN plant.
In partnership with Waste Management of New Hampshire, Inc., UNH launched ECOLine to pipe enriched and purified gas from Waste Management’s landfill in Rochester to the Durham campus. Coming from Waste Management’s Turnkey Recycling and Environmental Enterprise (TREE) facility in Rochester, NH, the landfill gas replaces commercial natural gas as the primary fuel in UNH’s cogeneration plant. Construction began in 2007 on the landfill gas processing plant in Rochester that purifies the gas and on the 12.7 mile underground pipeline that will transport the gas from the plant to the UNH Durham campus.
The methane is the primary fuel to operate the university’s cogeneration plant, which provides electricity and heat for the main campus buildings. UNH is the first university in the country to use landfill gas as its primary fuel source. When fully operational, EcoLine will provide up to 85% of the campus energy from the landfill gas.
- Cost savings: EcoLine cost an estimated $49 million - all internally-funded - with an anticipated payback within 10 years of the project. Both the cogeneration plant and the landfill gas projects were financed by the campus through borrowing.
- Renewable energy credits: In 2009, UNH began to sell the renewable energy certificates (REC's) associated with ECOLine's electricity generation to help finance the capital costs of the project and to invest in additional energy efficiency projects on campus. By selling RECs, UNH demonstrates fiscal as well as environmental responsibility.
- Emissions savings: When combined with the COGEN plant, ECOLine stabilizes energy costs, provides energy security, and demonstrates environmental responsibility. ECOLine and selling RECs are part of UNH’s aggressive climate action plan called “WildCAP,” which will outline how the university will lower its emissions to basically zero and secure its leadership position in climate protection as part of its broader sustainability commitment. Under WildCAP, UNH will cut its greenhouse gas emissions: 50% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 on the road to carbon neutrality by 2100.
Will using gas from a landfill to power UNH encourage people to waste and further promote a "consumer society" lifestyle?
No. Climate change is a dramatic challenge that demands a systemic and proportional response. We must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible to avert the worst impacts of climate change that will occur in the next 50 to 100 years if we do not cut our emissions drastically in the next decade. In light of this challenge, it's important to keep the following points in mind about using landfill methane gas for power:
- Selling RECs:
- Demonstrates fiscal as well as environmental responsibility: UNH is selling RECs, not buying RECs.
- Improves UNH’s energy security.
- Stabilizes UNH’s energy costs.
- ECOline is a partnership with Waste Management’s Turnkey Recycling and Environmental Enterprise (TREE) in Rochester, where the naturally occurring by-product of landfill decomposition is collected, purified, then piped 12 miles to UNH’s Durham campus.
- The gas will last for 20 years, even if the landfill is closed tomorrow. Turnkey Landfill is expected to continue to accept waste into the future.
- We need to cut greenhouse emissions now -- an estimated 80% by 2050, scientists tell us. Therefore, every landfill in the country should use or sell its methane gas for power - gas that is already being produced now from waste ALREADY in landfills.
- Ending the consumer society is an important concern, and we're not going to get to carbon neutrality without addressing it in a sustainable way. However, since we have only a decade in which to substantially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to explore renewable power sources like landfill gas.
- Until we can have a zero waste society, landfills are the best option for managing waste. Incineration, export, ocean dumping, etc., all have their own environmental and social problems. What's more, waste characterization and utilization research and engineering continue to improve our landfills and how we handle waste.
- Our US consumer society (like our car culture) developed from 1950-2000. It can be undone (many of our grandparents remember a time when this type of culture did not predominate, but it may take another 50 years for us to change. In the meantime, we should explore using landfill gas for power.