Dane County is a wonderful place to call home for so many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is because of the wealth of natural resources our community has. From rivers and lakes to parks and forests, our county offers endless opportunities for outdoor enjoyment. However, along with these incredible natural resources comes the responsibility to protect them. The Department of Waste & Renewables is committed to environmental protection, taking action on climate change, and incorporating sustainability in all aspects of our operations.
In 1995 Dane County began harvesting methane emissions from our landfill and producing electricity. Though this project was a major success (we produced on average 29,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy a year), it was time to find a new use for landfill emissions in 2019 when the original agreement expired.
“Our staff came up with – frankly – a brilliant proposal, which is to capture and clean the gas,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi told the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “We’re fortunate that there’s a pipeline that goes right next to our landfill, so we decided to clean our gas and sell it into the pipeline. Between what we get paid for that and the various credits that are available, it’s a very favorable economic model, even more so than generating electricity.”
This new proposal involved the construction of a $28 million facility next to our landfill which can capture and convert methane into renewable natural gas (RNG). Often considered a carbon neutral, RNG is derived from plant matter and can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. As if the environmental benefits weren’t appealing enough, the facility will pay for itself within three years! After that, the profits will go back into our county’s general fund which will save the tax payers money.
An additional component to this plan is that our new facility has an offloading station that allows regional biogas digesters from Wisconsin Dairy Farms and other agribusiness sources to truck their gas to our facility and use our pipeline interconnect. This capability of our project is the first of its kind in the nation.
In Fall 2019, the American Biogas Council recognized our RNG Facility with the 2019 Biogas Project of the Year Award for "deployment of innovative state-of-the-art cleaning tecnology to meet stringent RNG pipeline gas requirements." We are honored to receive this award and proud to be supplying a clean energy source for communites.
With the threat of climate change becoming increasingly prominent, it has never been more crucial to take action and protect the resources of our county and our world. The RNG landfill project brings us all one step closer to a future with cleaner air and a healthier ecosystem.
The conversation about climate change directly affects the Department in many ways and we are proud to be an active part of the discussion and solution. Our work on climate change will continue to focus on renewable energies such as RNG and solar and the transition from traditional waste management programs to resource management systems in a circular economy which are aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.
The Department of Waste & Renewables is committed to protecting the environment and improving the health of our community. We strive to minimize our impact to the landscape by restoring habitat and continue to create opportunities for environmental education and recreation.
As part of a 2018-2019 final cover project, a pollinator friendly seed mixture consisting of native grasses, forbs, and legumes was planted across 35 acres of closed landfill space to create habitat for butterflies and other pollinators. Although this native species seed mix takes longer than standard seed mixes to fully establish, the cover is coming in nicely and it will leave a habitat for pollinators and a potential place for recreation for generations to come.
Landfill covers are not the only places the Department of Waste & Renewables has planted pollinator friendly seed mixture. In 2014, the Department held a public participation archeological event of the historical Wheeler site, located in the Town of Westport. The Wheeler site was the childhood home of popular Wisconsin poetess, Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919), and a number of interesting, historical artifacts were unearthed. Once the archeological survey was complete, the Department restored the site to its original ecosystem by planting native grasses, forbs, and legumes for pollinators, as well as present and future generations, to enjoy.
For the last four decades of operation, the county has worked to increase efficiencies and divert recyclables from the landfill to maximize the life of the site; however, space at the landfill is not unlimited.
With this challenge, comes an opportunity to reimagine what our waste management system looks like in Dane County. By continuing our efforts to divert waste, implementing alternative options for organics and renewable energies, and providing new opportunities for on-site recycling and circular economies we can be a leader in sustainability.