In addition to Inter-County, which has 18,000 customers in Boyle, Casey, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties, the other power cooperatives taking part in the program are Blue Grass Energy of Nicholasville, which has several hundred customers in Mercer County, Clark Energy of Winchester and Owen Electric of Owenton.
"We now have green power in Kentucky for the first time," said Martin Huelsmann, chairman of the Kentucky Public Service Commission. "We have methane gas that otherwise would be harmful to the environment and are using it to produce energy. This gas is going to last forever. Imagine where it could lead us."
The methane gas fumes created at landfills are normally burned off. Under the EnviroWatts program, the gas will be converted to electricity and transmitted to the four power cooperatives in the program.
"When garbage decays, it releases methane gas, and up till now all of that gas has been burned off," said Jim Jacobus, president and chief executive officer of Inter-County Energy. "At the Bavarian Landfill and the other two landfills that will join the program in November, a small internal combustion turbine engine will be placed on site and it will convert the gas to electricity."
The electricity created from the methane will be transmitted to Inter-County and the other three electric coops. They will turn around and sell it in100-kilowatt blocks of power at a premium rate of $2.75 per block each month, he said.
"We will have a limited supply (of the methane-generated power), and the program is absolutely optional for our customers," Jacobus said. "Anyone wanting to take part in the program will pay the $2.75 surcharge per 100-kilowatt block per month, and that surcharge will be in addition to the customer's normal monthly charge for the conventionally-generated electricity they will continue to receive."
According to the PSC, the average home uses about 10 to 12 100-kilowatt blocks of electricity each month.
Some 150 homeowners have signed up so far
So far, some 150 homeowners, mostly in northern Kentucky, have signed up for blocks of power generated by methane.
While the methane conversion program is new, Inter-County and other power coops have been involved in developing "green power" sources of energy for some time, said Jacobus.
"We have been contracting with suppliers around the region and country who make available a certain amount of alternative power, such as hydro-generated power, wind power as well landfill gas power," he said. "But having these three methane gas plants close to home here in Kentucky really makes green power that much more accessible to us and, thus, more available to our customers."
Jacobus hinted that the accessibility and availability of electricity from methane may be even closer to home in the not-too-distant future.
"We're talking with landfills in this area about the possibility of their developing methane conversion plants or in some other way being part of the program," he said. "We may see a project spring up around Danville not too far down the road."
Meanwhile, Jacobus said the new methane program has hit close to his home. His daughter, Taryn, a Boyle County High School graduate who is a senior at Union College, recently was gathering information for a research paper for an environmental economics class on fossil fuel alternatives. She was able to use information about the new program for her project.
"Taryn needed to write about five alternatives to fossil fuels.The methane gas program became one of those five," said Jacobus.
The Inter-County Energy president hopes the program can be educational for all power companies and their customers as well as college students like his daughter.
"We are sitting on one of the largest supplies of coal in the world," said Jacobus, "but, as great a resource as coal is, in terms of its usability, accessibility and relatively inexpensive cost, we still have a responsibility to do what's best to protect the environment, and that includes continually looking for alternatives."