Editorial: Landfill project prompts optimism, caution

Look out across Deschutes County’s landfill at night and you’ll likely see a blue flame. That’s the county burning off the methane gas produced in the decomposition of garbage.

The Knott Landfill has never produced enough gas to make it worth anyone’s while to sell it. But Deschutes County commissioners are moving closer to a promising deal to sell the gas, create space in the landfill and earn the county a handsome monthly paycheck.

The proposal by Waste to Energy would inject steam into the landfill. That accelerates decomposition. The methane would be captured, and Waste to Energy plans to use a process to turn that gas into liquid diesel fuel. The fuel would be sold.

Commissioners and county staff have taken some sound steps. They don’t have the expertise in this technology. They hired a consultant to evaluate the risks — environmental and financial.

The resulting report from HDR Engineering seemed thorough, but it was based on Waste to Energy shipping off the gas into a pipeline, not transforming it into diesel. County Administrator Tom Anderson told us the county is going to ask HDR to do some more analysis.

The county does need to see financial statements from Waste to Energy to give confidence that it is, at least, stable.

The county also needs to seek a bond to cover possible expenses if Waste to Energy collapses. The size of the bond should assume the worst — whatever Waste to Energy installed is worthless and the county has a mess to clean up.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will install monitoring equipment.

There are other things that are different about this project. There were no bids. It’s a special procurement. And the technology that Waste to Energy is using is new.

So far, the county has shown the appropriate mix of caution and optimism.