Gaston County Waste & Recycling Division Gets Clean Air Award

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2011

06/14/11 by Kathy Chaffin
The Gaston County Solid Waste and Recycling Division is one of six recipients of the 2011 N.C. Mobile Clean Air Renewable Energy (CARE) Awards.
The division was nominated in the Fleet category by the Centralina Council of Governments for being on the forefront with its alternative fuel technology projects over the past several years. Division Administrator Marcie A. Smith said she didn’t know anything about the nomination until hearing the news that the division had received the award.
“It was great,” she said. “It’s wonderful to work on these kinds of projects, but to be recognized within the field of peers that you work in is an amazing feeling.”
In the fall of 2006, Gaston’s landfill became the first in the state to convert all its heavy duty off-road equipment to B20 biodiesel. Smith said Centralina approached Gaston County officials, offering to help offset the cost for three months if they would participate in a pilot project using the B20 biodiesel fuel instead of traditional diesel.
“At that time, there were a lot of misconceptions about how biodiesel would work in off-road equipment,” she said. “There was no money lost in the pilot project. We’ve been on biodiesel since then, and it’s worked wonderfully for us.”
Smith said the present cost fluctuates weekly as to whether biodiesel is a few cents cheaper or a few cents more expensive than traditional diesel.
County officials have also reduced emissions and improved performance by repowering and replacing engines in existing equipment with cleaner technology. This, along with Gaston’s no-idling policy, has saved the county from using at least 20,000 gallons of petroleum fuel each year.
Expanded storage capability now allows county officials to commit to using 100,000 gallons of B20 diesel a year.
Another long-term project – a newly-constructed power generation facility that will convert landfill gas into electricity – is targeted to start up this month. Smith said planning for what is being called the Gaston County Renewable Energy Center, located across the street from the landfill, was already under way when she started working as an environmental analyst in Gaston six years ago.
“It was really just a matter of being able to financially support the idea,” she said. “We knew we had to have a sustainable marketing strategy.”
The project came to fruition as more and more financial incentives came on the market for biodegradable energy. Smith said marketing carbon credits for each carbon ton of methane gas destroyed is one way the county plans to offset the cost of operating the facility.
The energy produced by the facility is projected to power 1,800 homes, she said, gradually building up to 3,600 over the next 10 years.
Gaston officials toured power generation plants in other counties before designing the Renewable Energy Center. The $6 million facility includes a conference area to be used as a remote training facility. “We would love to have the local college bring out classes,” Smith said, “and also to do tours around the facility.”
The Solid Waste and Recycling Division has also started constructing a Green Energy Park next to the Renewable Energy Center. Plans call for a biodiesel production facility within the energy park that would produce between 500,000 and 1,000,000 gallons of biodiesel per year.
Smith attributes the success of Gaston County’s Solid Waste and Recycling Division to proactive management and county commissioners. “We truly have a lot of support from the top down,” she said. “We live in this community. We don’t just work here, so I think there is an inherent desire to protect our environment at all cost.”
County officials also do a good job of informing the public that “environmental sustainability and fiscal responsibility aren’t competing interests,” Smith said. “They can truly work together.”
The Gaston County Solid Waste and Recycling Division has a strong outreach program which encourages residents to use one of the six recycling centers throughout the county and educates them about the Renewable Energy Center.
“We’re trying to get them to understand what we’re doing and how we’re going to go about doing it,” Smith said. “We feel like it’s something that should be a source of pride for the residents because it definitely is for us.”
In the last six months, she said at least 30 people have called requesting information about the Renewable Energy Center. “We love those requests because a lot of times, people take their trash to the curb and it goes away and they’re not concerned about where ‘away’ is.”
As the daughter of John Avery, the retired solid waste director for adjoining Lincoln County, Smith said she grew up around the business. “Very early on probably in my high school career,” she said, “I could see a shift coming in how solid waste was going to be managed and I really wanted to be part of it.”
She studied ecology and environmental biology in college and went to work for Gaston after completing an internship.
Smith said she thinks her father has enjoyed watching the evolution of solid waste and how county officials react to it. “I tell him all the time that he’s my free personal consultant,” she said.
The N.C. Mobile Clean Renewable Energy (CARE) Awards were created in 2006 to recognize outstanding individual and organizational efforts to reduce transportation-related emissions. The N.C. Solar Center at N.C. State University, with support from the N.C. Department of Transportation, organized the fifth annual awards as part of the Clean Fuel Advanced Technology Project.
Other winners of the 2011 awards by category are as follows:
* Individual – Dave Navey of the Charlotte Truck Center, and David Taylor of Taylor Automotive in Sanford;
* Fuel/Technology Provider – Blue Ridge Biofuels of Asheville, and Thomas Built Trucks of High Point;
* Policy – City of Raleigh.
Judges for the competition were Seth Effron, communication director for the N.C. Energy Office; Tom Mather, public information officer for the N.C. Division of Air Quality; and Julia Merchant, Communications, N.C. Department of Transportation.