The Lower Saucon Township Zoning Hearing Board granted a special exception that will allow a renewable natural gas facility to process and treat methane and carbon dioxide from the Bethlehem Landfill.
The action on Monday night was the second step in a multistep process for Aria Energy of Novi, Michigan, to receive the approval it needs to build a processing facility on 2.3 acres south of the landfill. The planning commission recommended site approval for the facility last month. The project now moves to the township council, which reviewed the project informally in April.
The project, which will process the landfill gas into natural gas, would be within the landfill's permitted area. It requires a special exception, as does the landfill itself. The facility would tie into the existing landfill gas system and send the processed gas into pipelines owned by UGI Utilities.
Aria's vice president of technical services, Steve Smith, told the board that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act requires landfills to collect landfill gas and noted that the Bethlehem Landfill already has a collection system in place. The landfill burns off the methane in a flare.
One of the biggest benefits of having the facility is that it will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide coming off the landfill by at least 70%, Smith said.
The plant would tie into the landfill's existing gas system and send the processed gas through an underground 4-inch iron pipe that would pass under Applebutter Road and connect to UGI's system, he said.
The project would involve the construction of a 2,300-square-foot office and control room, a 7,000-square-foot plant containing compressors and treatment vessels, and the construction of a retaining wall around the site. It would cost about $30 million.
The plant would require minimal staffing, two employees and a part-time manager, and could be operated and even shut down remotely, Smith said. He said the only byproduct from the gas processing would be water from the condensation process.
In response to a concern from Ricky Meyers of Ringhoffer Road, whose home borders the landfill, Smith said someone would be on call in case of a problem at the facility, which would operate around the clock. While the facility would only be staffed 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, plant operators would only be 20 to 30 minutes away in case of an emergency, he said. No gas will be stored on site.
If any of the sensors would detect a problem, the facility would shut down automatically, Smith said. The facility would be required by law to have a flare to temporarily burn off gas if the facility had to shut down for maintenance.
Board members Ronald Horiszny and Jay Lazar questioned Smith about potential noise from the facility. Smith said that the four neighboring properties would not be able to detect any noise from the facility and noted that trees between the facility and Applebutter Road would provide a buffer.
Noise-bearing equipment, such as compressors, would be inside the masonry building, Smith noted. He said a retaining wall would be built on the south side of the property.
The plant would produce enough gas to power more than 6,200 homes and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, he said.
PPL Electric Utilities would provide a dedicated 12 kilovolt service line for the facility, which would separate it from circuits that serve the rest of the township, he said.
Smith said he will have his first meeting with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on July 12 regarding state permits for the facility.