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Wicomico Co. considers energy plant

SALISBURY — Wicomico County officials are considering a plant at the county landfill to convert solid waste into energy-producing gas.

The Daily Times reports that supporters say the plant would create a new local energy source and help dispose of tons of chicken manure. County Public Works Director Lee Beauchamp and other officials met with regulators in Annapolis on Wednesday to discuss permitting hurdles for the $75 million project.

The process leaves behind carbon monoxide and hydrogen, the main components of synthetic gas, or syngas, and a charred remnant of the trash, totaling about 5 percent of its original volume. Syngas can be burned to create electricity or converted into ethanol and sold, Beauchamp said, but it’s not clear what the county would do with it.

The technology is worth pursuing because the solid waste program is losing money — $1.2 million last year — and the landfill is expected to run out of space in about 30 years, Beauchamp said.

“I’ll be honest with you,” he told the council. “I don’t know that we have that much left based on the volume that we’re collecting.”

The plant could handle 600 tons a day and could accept chicken manure from area farmers, which could be an outlet for farmers facing a new “phosphorus management tool” aimed at reducing Chesapeake Bay pollution, Beauchamp said. The overall operational savings could be $3.2 million a year and with approvals the plant could be operational by 2017, Beauchamp said.

“The benefits are tremendous,” said Wicomico Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg, “if it works.”