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Liberty Utilities Proposes Turning Bethlehem Landfill Methane Into Natural Gas

Sargent Corp

Liberty Utilities wants to use methane emissions from a North Country landfill as an energy source.

Liberty has proposed spending $15 million on a system to capture methane given off by decomposing trash at the Casella-owned landfill in Bethlehem.

The utility would convert the methane into “renewable” natural gas – so called because the trash that generates it can be replenished.

The project would generate as much gas annually as more than 6,000 homes can use in a year.

Spread across Liberty's 92,000-customer base, the project would cover about 6 percent of their annual sales, spokeswoman Emily Burnett says.

"We're not really doing this to help with capacity,” Burnett says. “It's just better for the environment and our customers."

Research shows direct methane emissions are worse for the environment than burning natural gas for fuel, as Liberty is proposing.

"Unfortunately, I don't think it's realistic to say we can get rid of landfills at this point in time,” Burnett says. “But we're actually helping to turn them into something useful."

Liberty has asked the Public Utilities Commission to approve the plan within the next couple months. It wants to begin selling gas from the project by next summer.

Burnett says the PUC process will determine whether the project raises rates for customers.

If approved, the project would be state's first that’s owned by a utility. The University of New Hampshire currently harnesses methane gas from the Turnkey Landfill in Rochester.

The Liberty proposal comes as the Bethlehem landfill faces a lawsuit from environmental groups, alleging the facility is illegally polluting the Ammonoosuc River.

A federal judge this week declined Casella’s request to have the lawsuit thrown out. The case is set to go to trial in October of 2019.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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