This methane “well” collects methane from the buried decomposing garbage underground. A pipe system channels the methane to the Landfill Gas-to-Energy Plant, pictured in the background.

“Your garbage is producing your power.” That’s how Flathead County Public Works Director Dave Prunty describes Flathead Electric Co-op’s biomass project at the landfill.

Flathead Electric and Flathead County became business partners in 2009 in creating what was the first methane gas-to-energy project in the state of Montana. The plant generates enough electricity to serve up to 1,600 households. Making this project possible were Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS) awarded to Flathead Electric in the amount of $3.5 million. The investment will accommodate growth at the landfill as well. A second generator can be added if need be over the course of time. The system was installed and is operated by SCS Energy, a company that specializes in landfill projects and leads the way in this industry across the country, if not internationally.

This 20-cylinder engine burns the methane to produce electricity.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that results from decaying garbage, and is 21-times more potent than carbon dioxide. To stay in compliance with environmental mandates, landfills are required to prevent methane from escaping into the atmosphere or leaking into groundwater under a landfill. The Flathead Landfill utilizes a vacuum system to draw the methane from the waste within the landfill, which was previously burned in a flare system. The biomass process captures and filters the gas to remove liquid and particulates, then burns it in a 20-cylinder engine. The burning methane drives a 1.6 megawatt electric generator connected directly to Flathead Electric’s distribution system.

In 2023, your Co-op doubled the plant’s generation capacity by installing a second engine. Today, the Landfill Gas-to-Energy Plant benefits the environment by burning the toxic methane released from decaying garbage and also supports the electric grid by adding 3.2 megawatts of locally generated power to the Co-op’s system.

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