FRAMINGHAM, MA – Energy company Ameresco “sees renewable natural gas as a tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and its leaders believe landfills will be a key player in ramping up supply in coming years,” Waste Dive (WD) reported on March 2.
“The Massachusetts-based company has been building a variety of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects since 2000, including solar, wind, wastewater biogas, battery and energy storage, and microgrid installations,” WD reported, adding that “a cornerstone of Ameresco’s business is its contracts with federal, state and local governmental entities, including the U.S. military, but Ameresco also works with private companies. The company reported revenues of $1.2 billion in 2021.”
“Landfill gas-to-energy projects are a notable part of its portfolio,” WD reported, noting that “one of its early installations was a partnership with WM [Waste Management] and BMW, where Ameresco converted the car manufacturer’s on-site power station to use methane gas piped from the nearby WM Palmetto Landfill in South Carolina.”
“About half of the BMW site’s energy comes from the project, Ameresco says,” WD reported, adding that “in 2021, the company announced the completion of a landfill gas-to-energy project with Republic Services at its McCarty Road Landfill in Houston, which Republic said offers a source for ‘low-carbon transportation fuel’ and helps it make substantial progress toward its goal to send 50% more landfill gas to ‘beneficial use’ by 2030.”
Greek- American Ameresco President and CEO George Sakellaris “sees the company as well-positioned to support more renewable natural gas (RNG) projects in its portfolio in the coming years, especially as the country makes greenhouse gas reduction efforts a bigger priority and landfill operators position themselves as energy producers as well as waste management companies,” WD reported, noting its recent interview with Sakellaris, Ameresco’s executive vice president and general manager of federal solutions Nicole Bulgarino, and senior vice president for corporate marketing and communications Leila Dillon.
When asked about how Ameresco fits into the larger renewable energy, landfill gas, and RNG market, Sakellaris told WD: “We got into landfill gas-to-energy back in 2001 because, as you probably know, methane is more destructive to the ozone than anything else. Since then, one project we did, which was very interesting, is the landfill gas energy project down in South Carolina with BMW [at WM’s Palmetto Landfill in Spartanburg, South Carolina]. We took the methane and cleaned it at the site, and we built a 10-mile pipeline to go to the BMW facility. They had a power plant, but they were using natural gas. We said we would convert the turbines to use this methane gas, and it’s been successfully operating ever since we completed the project in 2003-2004. The CEO of BMW came over from Germany and couldn’t believe the carbon footprint reduction accomplished on that particular plant.”
“Renewable electricity is a very good price right now, but recently we [are doing projects to] take landfill gas and convert it to RNG,” he told WD. “We go one more step so we can bring it into the interstate pipelines and shoot it all the way to places like California, where we can get the best price for it. That’s what we’ve done with projects like the San Antonio wastewater and sewage system, where we took the biogas coming out of their digesters to a refinery plant. Then we took the renewable natural gas, we put it in the interstate pipeline and we ship it all the way to California.”
About projects at landfills to use part of the land for solar energy, Sakellaris said that “it’s something that we’re doing to utilize wasted land with landfills,” WD reported. “We work with the landfills and the EPA to install solar, working to not disturb what’s underneath [in the landfill], not disturb the membrane, but lay solar panels on top of it. As the technology evolves and the price of building goes down, you will find more and more applications across the country.”
When asked how Ameresco chooses its diverse projects, Sakellaris told WD: “Originally, we would be the ones to approach the landfill owners, or the municipalities, or cities and towns like Phoenix or San Antonio, or whoever manages the site, like Waste Management, and ask them if we can develop the project. They would say, ‘Sure, I want X amount of money for my methane,’ and then we go and develop it. But nowadays, they are the ones who issue the RFPs, and then we’ll put the package and proposal together.”
“If we’re successful, we’ll go to the site and find out how much potential methane the client has and how many years or [how much] supply we have within our economic analysis,” Sakellaris said, WD reported, adding that “we have a great team to identify how much potential each site has. That’s the big difference now with a request for proposals because there are five, six companies like ours that do the same thing, and [clients] go to all those companies to get the best price for the system and the methane out of it.”
Of the competition, Sakellaris told WD: “There’s more competition than we had in the past because there’s more and more renewable natural gas that gets structured in the marketplace and more people beginning to talk about decarbonizing the natural gas. We still compete very well because we’ve been in it for longer than just about anyone. [As of January] we have 14 sites under development now that will be up and running over the next few years.”
Leila Dillon told WD: “A key component here is winning these deals. I’m thinking of the Southern California Edison deal that we won at the end of last year [to design and build battery storage systems meant to strengthen grid resiliency against extreme weather in the state]. Nicole’s group has done a tremendous job putting in incredibly large, comprehensive projects with the different agencies and the federal government. We have a deep portfolio of comprehensive projects that has enabled us to build credibility, to have a track record. That really gives us that upper edge, I think, in a lot of these proposals.”
“We’ve actually done two landfill gas projects – one for the Air Force, one for the Coast Guard – where we’re able to use that approach,” Nicole Bulgarino told WD, adding, “these types of projects involve elements… like [methane produced] either on-site or by a neighboring landfill to provide steady, locked-in energy stores for them for 20 years.”
“We’re able to go to a particular customer with what we call a holistic solution, so all the way from an energy efficiency concern for more resiliency to providing energy storage, whether it be landfill gas-to-energy, or to renewable natural gas, whatever the case might be,” Sakellaris told WD. “The technical expertise we have to address those issues also gives us a competitive advantage in the marketplace, especially for federal government projects,” he said.
When asked about organics diversion and related anaerobic digestion projects, Sakellaris told WD: “People don’t realize that 40% [of U.S. electricity generation] is natural gas. Somehow we have to decarbonize. Getting more renewable natural gas is going to play a key role in accomplishing that, whether it’s coming from a landfill site or anaerobic digesters. We need some kind of a firm, long-term national policy and to address all these issues and help diversify the grid.”