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Can a Council Live Lightly?

By Bruce Key, Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health (WATCH)

It is hard for a council like Albury to live lightly when it has to dispose of large amounts of rubbish.

Two problems arise; – firstly the sheer volume of waste, and secondly the methane emissions from rotting vegetable matter.

In relation to the volume of waste, Albury council has introduced its Halvewaste campaign and is soon to implement an organic waste diversion program.

In the case of methane emissions, they are flammable and hence a fire hazard. They also contribute to the council’s carbon emissions, so opportunities to reduce methane emissions were investigated.  As a result, the city entered into a partnership with a private company – LMS Energy – which specializes in the capture and utilization of methane from landfills to generate electricity.  Under this arrangement LMS has built and now operates the Albury Renewable Energy Facility at the Albury landfill. The facility uses methane from the landfill as fuel to drive an electricity generator

The generator facility was officially opened on 28 May 2014.  It is forecast to produce approximately 9000 MW hours of reliable base-load electricity each year, sufficient to meet the power needs of about 1200 homes.   So far it is on target to meet this projection.  The retail value of this electricity is about $2,700,000 per annum.  The electricity generated at the facility is sold into the national electricity market which allows LMS to cover its capital outlay.

The project has both financial and environmental benefits.  The site is forecast to abate approximately 46,800 tonnes (CO2e) of carbon each year.  If the carbon tax was still in place at $23 per tonne, the city would save $1,076,000 per annum by having the Renewable Energy Facility operating.  Savings of this magnitude act as an incentive to reduce carbon emissions but in Albury’s case the council was moving towards the goal of emissions reduction before the carbon tax was implemented.  The irony is that the new power plant was commissioned less than two months before the carbon tax was repealed.

Nevertheless it is an excellent example of a win-win situation that demonstrates how the carbon tax was designed to work. Albury council had greatly reduced its emissions (and therefore its carbon tax liability should one be reintroduced), it is paid a royalty for the methane, the fire hazard has been reduced, more renewable energy has entered the electricity system, the LMS company has expanded its business, and the environment benefits from lower methane discharges.