Lincoln project proves going green no easy task

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

We've watched with interest Lincoln's project to recover methane gas from the city's landfill and turn it into electricity.

It seems like a good idea since the federal Clean Air Act requires the gas to be collected from a series of wells and purified anyway. The recovered methane is then sent to the Terry Bundy Generation station, where it's turned into power for Lincoln Electric System customers.

You could probably hear the skeptics saying "I told you so" once the Lincoln Journal Star reported the project has lost $600,000 over the past six years.

The story deserves a closer look, however.

Market forces -- low natural gas and wholesale electricity prices -- had a lot to do with the loss, but Mayor Chris Beutler exacerbated the problem by using about $120,000 a year for two years to hire a sustainability assistant in his office and an environmental program.

LES officials expect it to lose money again this year because of low gas and electricity prices, but they expect to break even eventually based on industry forecasts.

We've often wondered if it really made sense to close McCook's landfill and pay to have our trash hauled all the way to Ogallala.

Requirements like the federal rules cited above led to that decision, and few would argue that a landfill would be more desirable than the rolling meadow that now lies next to the Walmart Super Center.

Ideally, we could reduce our solid waste stream through better recycling and put our trash to better use than supplying a Keith County landfill, but as Lincoln's experience proves, it can be hard for such noble efforts to make economic sense.

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