Let’s Talk Trash: Turning Methane Gas into Renewable Energy
When I mention renewable energy, most people assume I’m talking about solar, wind, or hydro. Sure, those are the big players, but a less obvious one is landfill gas or biomass. This form of renewable energy takes an existing problem and solves it by converting the methane gas that landfills already produce into electricity.
Santee Cooper was the first South Carolina utility to supply renewable electricity to customers. What may be surprising is that this was accomplished by turning methane gas from landfills into energy while simultaneously removing it from the atmosphere. This was in 2001! Since then, we have expanded our landfill gas portfolio to 29 MW.
As greenhouse gases go, methane gas is far more destructive to the environment than carbon dioxide – according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 28 to 36 times more potent. Unfortunately, methane is a byproduct of landfills, and landfills are a fact of life. BUT – using landfill gas to generate electricity helps turn this unfortunate byproduct into something positive.
There are many benefits to using landfill gas as an energy source. Perhaps the most important is keeping the methane that landfills produce from entering the atmosphere. As landfill waste decomposes and produces landfill gas, we convert the methane into electricity through a process that actually reduces greenhouse-gas emissions. And, Santee Cooper is the only energy provider in the state taking advantage of this technology.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), an estimated 270 billion cubic feet of landfill gas was burned to generate about 11 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2018. That’s a lot of methane that didn’t end up in the atmosphere! Another benefit of converting landfill gas to energy is that it’s relatively inexpensive to produce when compared to fossil fuels. This helps keep the cost of producing electricity lower so those savings can be passed on to our customers.
Santee Cooper is proud of its history of Green Power, and we still have the most diverse portfolio of renewable generation in the state. This is only going to improve as we are currently working with Central Electric Power Cooperative to purchase up to 500 megawatts of new utility-scale solar power. This is all part of our plan to add up to 1,500 MW of new solar capacity to the South Carolina grid.
Renewable energy is much more than on our radar, it’s been part of our generation portfolio for nearly two decades. We will continue on this path to ensure we keep providing South Carolinians with the reliable, low-cost electricity that they have come to expect. For more information about our commitment to environmental stewardship, click here.