DeKalb CEO approves natural gas facility

A $7.8 million federal Department of Energy stimulus grant will help pay for a portion of the alternative fuel station to be built at the Seminole Landfill in Ellenwood.

CEO Burrell Ellis cast the deciding vote after the county commission split on approving the plant. This marked the first time since he was elected in 2008 that Ellis has had to vote.

Commissioners Jeff Rader, Kathie Gannon and Stan Watson voted in support of the project, while Commissioners Elaine Boyer, Lee May and Sharon Barnes Sutton voted against it. Commissioner Larry Johnson abstained.

The commission was divided on accepting the grant to build its own plant or contracting with Jacoby Energy Development, which submitted an alternative proposal after the county had already signed a contract.

The Jacoby contract was not eligible for the grant.

“I don’t want to be in the fuel business. I don’t think it’s the government’s role to be in the fuel business,” Boyer said. “I think this is the worst proposal I have seen in a long time to come across my desk.”

On Monday, the Energy Department threatened to revoke the grant if the county didn’t take proper action Tuesday, adding future grants could be impacted.

Commissioners voting in support of the project said there was no option, since the county had already signed a contract to take the grant last year.

“The commission already voted to accept this grant,” Rader said. “This takes something that was formerly a waste product and makes it into a transportation fuel.”

Under the project, DeKalb will capture its methane gas from the landfill and convert it to compressed natural gas. The county will retrofit 40 sanitation trucks to use natural gas instead of diesel. The rest of the gas will be sold to the public.

The DeKalb grant is part of a $14.9 million federal grant to the region, including money to the City of Atlanta to convert shuttles at the airport, along with purchasing natural gas vehicles for UPS and Coca-Cola.

Boyer said she supported converting the gas, but didn’t think the county could support handling the operation on its own.

“Mark my words. There will be rate increases if this goes forward,” Boyer said. “This has been very sloppily handled. ... My goal is to represent the taxpayers of DeKalb and to give them their best bet and right now, I don’t think this is their best bet.”

The grant will cover about 50 percent of the plant’s construction and operation costs for five years. The county already has another $6 million in sanitation fees sitting in the bank for the plant, said Ted Rhinehart, deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure.

Rhinehart said he anticipates that money will be made up over time from natural gas sales revenue.

Ellis said he cast the final approving vote because the plant not only will improve the environment, but create jobs. Officials estimate as many as 200 jobs will be generated for construction and operating the plant.

“At the end of the day, the grant gave us the best opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and save the most money for the taxpayers,” Ellis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Officials say the county will pay about $1.50 a gallon of gas for sanitation trucks verses more than $3 a gallon for diesel.

DeKalb will become the first government in the metro region, as well as one of the first in the nation, to convert landfill gas into fuel, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said.

“This grant will not only increase the use of alternative fueled vehicles, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, increase fuel economy and harmful emissions, but it will make DeKalb County one of the leaders of this green technology,” Johnson said.

Indiana-based Energy Systems Group will work with non-profit Clean Cities Atlanta to build the plant. Energy Systems Group built the natural gas plant at DeKalb’s Live Oak landfill. Jacoby operates that plant and pays a royalty to DeKalb for the gas, which is sold to Atlanta Gas Light.

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