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Landfills generate 'green' cash in northern Utah
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Massive piles of rotting garbage dumped in landfills over decades in Ogden and Layton are creating cash, foot by cubic foot.

Weber County and Wasatch Integrated Waste Management System not only make money by turning methane gas generated in the trash heaps into electricity, they're also selling carbon offset credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange.

While it's not a lot of money, it makes the green landfill projects even greener.

Last spring, Weber County made $102,000 selling carbon credits it was awarded by the Chicago Climate Exchange for reducing greenhouse gases in 2005, 2006 and 2007, said Gary Laird, the county's solid-waste manager.

Laird sold at the top of the market, when carbon credits were worth $6.30 to $7 each. Friday on the Chicago Climate Exchange, the credits were down to $1.95 each.

Wasatch Integrated sold about $14,000 worth at a lower $2 market rate, but is holding onto more than 88,000 credits, figuring the price will rise with demand when the government gets around to regulating greenhouse gas emissions, said Wasatch's Executive Director Nathan Rich.

"It's sure worked out neat so far," he said.

Chicago Climate Exchange is one of dozens of markets that have cropped up worldwide in recent years as pressure as mounted on countries and companies to reduce greenhouse.

Wasatch Integrated, which burns and puts into landfills almost all the waste in Davis County and all of Morgan County's, joined in January 2007; Weber County joined that spring.

Each had begun capturing methane natural gas generated in their capped trash heaps a few years earlier, mainly to keep it from migrating and, later, exploding.

The gas is piped to nearby electrical generating stations. Weber County owns its station and sells power to Rocky Mountain Power -- a source that gave the county a tidy $240,000 last year. Wasatch Integrated's methane goes to a plant over the fence at Hill Air Force Base. Sales last year amounted to $40,000 for Wasatch.

While energy and environmental activists applaud such efforts, some are not so enthusiastic about the markets, like Chicago Climate Exchange, that let those curbing emissions trade on their own good deeds.

One, Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the book Hell and High Water: Global Warming -- the Solution and the Politics -- and What We Should Do, calls them carbon "rip-offsets."

He doesn't like that the Chicago Climate Exchange rewards companies or governmental agencies for past greenhouse-gas reductions.

"If I'm going to put up money, I want my money to go to a project that wouldn't otherwise happen," Romm said.

He also believes there isn't enough scrutiny of the projects that earn the credits, likens the market to the mortgage-backed securities market now in shambles.

"The offset business is unregulated and voluntary, and it doesn't take a genius to see unregulated markets tend to attract a lot of dubious players," said Romm, who is also editor of the Web site http://www.climateprogress.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.climateprogress.org.

Rich disagreed.

"I've been through the verification process, and it's crazy, very detailed," he said. "If you're buying these credits, they're real."

The Chicago Climate Exchange uses independent engineers to verify emission reductions and Wasatch, which is a full member of the exchange, also is scrutinized by auditors who verify that it is reducing emissions at its burn plant, as promised when it became a full exchange member.

Wasatch agreed to reduce burn plant emissions by 6 percent by 2010.

Rich also defended the market's practice of rewarding credits for past good work.

"What's wrong with rewarding people for good behavior?" he said.

Although Wasatch didn't expect to make a bundle of money, selling carbon offset credits can help new green projects pencil out, he said.

Laird said the sale of carbon credits was part of Weber County's calculation all along.

"This was what made our project feasible," he said.

kmoulton@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">kmoulton@sltrib.com

What's a carbon credit?

It's a marketable security, traded like a corporate stock or futures contract. New markets, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange, have emerged to award companies or government agencies "credits" for projects that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. They sell the credits, via the exchange, to individuals or companies that want to offset their own carbon emissions -- or to appear more "green." The value of each credit fluctuates, as in any market.

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