DANVILLE — Trash, in Greg Wagoner's opinion, is a beautiful thing.
The vice president of business development for Wabash Valley Power was on hand Wednesday with representatives of Waste Management and Hendricks Power Cooperative, as well as elected officials, to dedicate a new gas-to-energy plant at Twin Bridges.
The facility, the fourth of its kind at Twin Bridges, uses pipes to suck methane gas from the landfill to two 20-cylinder Caterpillar engines, which run on the gas to generate electricity that's sent to Hendricks Power's grid.
Brad Eisenhart, senior district manager for Waste Management of Indiana, says the plant burns about 1,200 cubic feet of gas per minute. Since garbage creates methane as it breaks down - and used to be burned off anyway to prevent landfill fires - facilities such as this now allow it to be used beneficially.
In fact each one generates 3.2 megawatts of electricity - enough to power about 14,000 homes.
"We see the waste we handle as not just something to be disposed of, but as a valuable resource," Eisenhart said. "That resource and the landfill gas it produces will provide a green, renewable fuel that enables us to generate electricity for surrounding communities for decades to come."
Bruce Palin, assistant commissioner for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said he never thought he'd see technology like this when he began his career 36 years ago.
"Back then if the garbage wasn't on fire, we were pretty happy," he said. It's a big reason why he's stayed in the field.
"While garbage may not be particularly glamorous, it's never been boring."
Danville Town Council President Marcia Lynch noted how energy continues to be one of the United States' most pressing issues.
"Alternative energy products such as this will help our country become more self-sufficient," she said.
Republican Congressman Todd Rokita of Indiana's Fourth District feels the same. He added you can't be a conservative if you're not willing to help preserve the earth.
"That's part of the definition, in my opinion," Rokita said. "This gets us down that road."
However, he doesn't view electricity from garbage as a magic pill for energy issues: "In an all-of-the-above strategy, this has its place."
Wagoner is more optimistic. Years ago, Wabash Valley Power decided it need to diversify the ways it makes electricity. Coal used to generate 90 percent of its supply. Now it's only 55, thanks to facilities like this and others that derive their supply from wind. The organization also is considering solar.
"We want to be stewards of the environment," Wagoner said. "That is our No. 1 goal. But we also have to do it in a way that doesn't raise rates for our members. We don't need any (federal or state) mandates."
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson reminisced about how controversial it was for Danville to allow Twin Bridges to put a landfill here in 1993. Since then WM has dedicated 275 of its 975 acres to recreational amenities, including soccer and softball fields, an archery range, and 18-hole golf course.
"What it has been is a wonderful partnership," Lawson said. "This station, along with the others, is just another example."
Wabash Valley now owns 14 of these gas-to-energy facilities throughout Indiana, and is looking to expand into other states.
"We just wish there were more landfills, because we'd build these all over," Wagoner said.