June 4, 2009
Snoqualmie’s City Council heard a presentation from Scott Sanders on May 26 about a potential biogas facility on city-owned property.
Sanders proposed that the city pay him for approximately 110 hours of work to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the city would benefit from an anaerobic digester facility at the city’s Public Works site off Stearns Road.
Anaerobic digester systems use organic waste material to create methane gas that can be burned to create electricity. Another byproduct of the anaerobic process is a high-grade compost material. Anaerobic digestion mimics natural processes. Sanders noted that it was similar to a cow’s digestive system in that organic material is consumed and later becomes manure and methane gas.
Many climate change scientists believe that methane gas is worse than carbon dioxide emissions, because methane retains more heat. Sanders said that the process of capturing methane and burning it for electricity significantly reduces the amount of methane in the atmosphere that would otherwise be caused by the natural degradation of the organic waste materials.
Washington state has three biogas facilities in operation and one coming online in the near future, Sanders said. Puget Sound Energy is buying electricity made from biogas already, he said.
“There is a market for renewable energy. There are people out there who are willing to buy it,” Sanders said.
Under Sanders’ preliminary plan, the city would lease space at its Public Works facility, most likely where the decommissioned wastewater treatment lagoons were located. Building, operating and maintaining the anaerobic digester would be the responsibility of the developer.
The city could financially benefit from lease payments, business and operations taxes from a facility. There would also be the less tangible benefit of supporting a project that reduces greenhouse gasses and produces renewable energy. Sanders said that the city could leverage the project to attract more eco-friendly businesses to the city, or to market Snoqualmie as a sustainable community to potential residents.
According to Sanders, the Snoqualmie Public Works site could be ideal for a facility, because it is close to Puget Sound Energy’s Snoqualmie Falls hydroelectric plant and its high capacity transmission lines. He said that similar projects never got off the ground because the cost of bringing transmission lines to the site were too great. The Public Works facility is about one-third of a mile from PSE’s transmission lines.
Sanders told the council that the economic climate for renewable energy projects was encouraging to the development community. He noted that federal stimulus money was being used to promote similar projects.
City Council members Charles Peterson and Kathi Prewitt asked how a biogas facility would impact traffic. Peterson questioned what organic materials would be used for the facility, noting that there were only four working farms left in the Valley. He asked how much material would be trucked through town to the facility.
Sanders said that the facility would likely not use organic waste materials from farms, and would probably import organic food waste from such places as school cafeterias and restaurants. Those sources of organic waste material typically end up in landfills, and using them to make biogas would reduce the amount of garbage sent to landfills.
Mayor Matt Larson said that he thought there would not be a significant increase in traffic caused by a biogas facility, because the organic waste was already being moved through the city.
Sanders said that transportation impacts were one area that his feasibility study could address.
One issue that could stand in the way of a biogas facility is the amount of space available at the Public Works facility. The available land is about 8.4 acres. The city has discussed the possibility of leasing some of that space to the Snoqualmie Valley School District for school bus parking and a maintenance shed. The city might also want to retain property on site for eventually expanding its wastewater treatment plant.
Prewitt said that, given the financial outlook for the city, she was leery of spending city money on a feasibility study. A scope-of-work statement from Sanders indicates that the feasibility study would cost the city about $5,900.
“It’s possible that this is a situation where we might be a penny wise but a dollar foolish if we do not take advantage of opportunities like this,” Larson said.
The mayor added that this was a situation where the council had a lot of good questions that unfortunately couldn’t be answered until after a feasibility study.
The council took no action on the feasibility study at its meeting. The issue was directed to the Public Works Committee for further discussion.
Reach reporter Michael Bayless Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 392-6434, ext. 248.