The following are excerpts of a news article, “Offsetting Local: Inside a Landfill Gas Project,” that appeared on the Ecosystem Marketplace July 17, 2015. These excerpts are reprinted with permission from Ecosystem Marketplace and the author, Allie Goldstein.
It’s a hot day in May, and air conditioners throughout Washington, D.C. are already pumping. Across the river in Alexandria, Virginia, a group of WGL Energy [Services] employees stands next to a giant pile of trash. Mike Gailliot, the owner of the pile, opens a chain-link fence and leads the group into a maze of pipes and blowers, all pumping methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into a six-inch gas flare that is invisible save for the willowy shadow it casts on the sidewalk. This flare is the result of the methane being burned off into carbon dioxide, reducing its impact on the atmosphere by 95%.
“We’re a small enough facility that we didn’t fall under the Clean Air Act,” Gailliot says, adding that because the landfill collected construction and demolition debris, it also wasn't subject to regulations applicable to municipal solid waste facilities, but that leaking methane violated Gailliot's "good neighbor" policy, and it wasn't part of the legacy he wanted to leave to his children.
In 2010, Gailliot installed a flow meter and realized that Hilltop was generating a sufficient volume of gas to justify a landfill gas offset project. By following Climate Action Reserve (CAR) procedures and carefully documenting all of their actions, the Hilltop project produced 16,898 offsets between March 2013 and March 2014, according to CAR’s verification report. Gailliot estimates that they may be able to produce as many as 40,000 offsets annually as the decomposition of the debris in the landfill accelerates – the equivalent of keeping 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
But generating offsets is only half the challenge. They also have to sell them, and that’s why the WGL Energy employees are here.
Hilltop's offsets are one solution to the question WGL Energy, a supplier to many customers of the natural gas utility Washington Gas, seeks to answer: How can they help their customers green their natural gas usage? Offsetting unavoidable emissions is part of that strategy – but WGL Energy wanted the program to be tangible to its customers.
“We wanted all the projects within a day’s drive but also within the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Alicia LaRoche, WGL Energy's Green Products Manager, said.
WGL Energy automatically offsets a portion of its customers’ emissions – 5% for residential customers and 3.5% for small commercial customers. These residential and small commercial customers can then choose to offset 100% of the emissions associated with their natural gas usage. Large commercial customers can elect to offset any percentage they want.
The product is called CleanSteps® Carbon Offsets [from WGL Energy], and since it began being offered in 2010, several thousand WGL Energy customers in the region have purchased more than 200,000 carbon offsets. Northern Virginia Community College, the second-largest community college in the country, is one WGL Energy customer that now offsets 100% of its emissions through CleanSteps.
LaRoche says the average residential customer uses about 1,000 therms of natural gas per year, which results in about five tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In a sample D.C. zip code, that’s about half of a typical household’s total emissions per year and about a sixth of the total climate impact of its residents. LaRoche estimates that the average household would pay about $10 per month more to neutralize the carbon footprint of their gas usage.
You can view the complete article online at www.ecosystemmarketplace.com.
To learn more about CleanSteps Carbon Offsets from WGL Energy, and their environmental benefits, please click here.