Methane gas to provide electricity

Capturing 90,000 tons/year

Several energy companies and Western State College are teaming up to put methane captured from an abandoned coal mine in the North Fork Valley to use generating electricity that would be pumped into the power grid.



With a letter of support from the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners that was approved at a regular meeting Tuesday, May 5, the group is hoping to secure grant money and other funding to get the project going.
The project, known as the North Fork Valley Coal Mine Methane Capture and Electricity Generating Project, would use methane collected from the Sanborn Creek coal mine that was abandoned in 2003 to generate at least three megawatts of electricity. One megawatt is, roughly, enough to power the needs of more than 500 homes.
The project is made up of Oxbow Mining LLC, which owns two coal mines in the North Fork Valley including Sanborn Creek; Gunnison Electric Corporation; Vessels Coal Gas Inc. of Denver; and Western State College.
According to the project proponents, tests carried out at the mine after it closed showed the methane, or natural gas, escaping from the mine to be the right quality and quantity to continually run a reciprocating gas engine to generate the power.
Project proponents are negotiating with Delta Montrose Electricity Association and Tri-State Generation and Transmission with the goal of finding a market for the electricity the project produces.
County commissioner Hap Channell praised the project during the meeting last Tuesday and said he was pleased to see some progress being made in using coal mine methane for electricity generation.
“This project fits exactly in the direction that this board wants to move,” he said.
A stated goal of the commissioners has been to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced in the county. Methane has 23 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide, the byproduct of burning methane for electricity generation.
Proponents say the project will “capture and use approximately 90,000 tons per year of carbon-equivalent emissions, which may otherwise escape from the abandoned mine workings.”
If the project is successful, methane from the operational Elk Creek coal mine could also be captured and used for electricity generation in the future.
County manager Matthew Birnie said he had been speaking periodically with Gunnison Electric Corporation chief executive Brad Robinson about the project, since it is believed the county’s support could give the group an advantage when it comes to getting grants to pay for some of the project’s start-up costs.
Birnie said Robinson was “a little concerned that they wouldn’t be able to go through with the project without a grant because of the economics,” pointing to the dropping price of electricity as the reason the project would be hard to find funding for. “They’re hoping to rake in some of that stimulus money for clean energy.”
Funding is also part of the reason Western State College was brought into the fold. In a description of the project, proponents say WSC has agreed to a memorandum of understanding to “jointly seek grant monies and alternative funding mechanisms.”
In return, WSC will be able to provide its students with a long-term opportunity to participate in and have access to the project.

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