Repairing landfill generator will cost Columbia $250,000

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COLUMBIA - Repairing a landfill generator and parts of Columbia's Biogas Energy Plant will cost Columbia $250,000 from its operations and maintenance budget.

Christian Johanningmeier, the city's power production superintendent, said some of the money will be recovered through insurance.

One of the three generators needs extensive repair after an oil leak caused a fire in December 2018.

"It essentially damaged unit 3 enough that it will be out of service probably until late spring some time," said Ryan Williams, the assistant utilities director for Columbia Water and Light.

The fire was contained to the newest generator at the plant, but caused extensive damage because of the high heat and smoke. 

"A lot of the damage was caused by soot. That's the nature of the combustion of the oil itself," Williams said. "Some of the other materials that also combusted, there were wires, insulation, and some pretty nasty stuff that actually burned."

Johanningmeier said the main problem Columbia is facing now the wait for key components.

Ronnie Tennill, supervisor of the Biogas Energy Plant, said the city is basically at a standstill until new parts arrive.

The Columbia's Renewable Energy Report for 2019 said the unit's repair is expected to take six to nine months. Williams said it's too early to tell exactly how long the repairs will take and how they will affect the amount of renewable energy the city produces for 2019. 

"Well, we were planning on having it in service the majority of the year, so having it back online as soon as possible will help us ensure that we will meet our target," Williams said.

He said it that doesn't happen the city may need to buy energy from other suppliers.

"The longer we have it offline the higher the possibility becomes that we will have to make another short term purchase," Williams said.

He said came as a surprise because unit 3 is the newest generator.

"You would think if we would've had any problems, it would have been on units 1 or 2," Williams said. "We attribute this to a rare occurrence as far as the accident itself is concerned."

The city is considering adding a sprinkler system in case of another fire. Johanningmeier said the city is starting to evaluate the option, and doesn't know how much it will cost.

Williams said the sprinkling system could create problems instead of solving them.

"Unfortunately, water and electricity don't get along very well together, so sprinkling an electric generator may cause even more damage than the fire," he said.

Small differences between the two older units and unit 3 might be what caused the fire.

"The number 3 unit had a slightly different design than units 1 and 2, so we noticed there were little differences in how the engines were configured," Johanningmeier said. "As a result of that, we are keeping a closer look on the line of unit 3 that broke." 

Still, the city said it isn't looking to change types of generators.

Tennill said buying new parts will cost around $39,000. According to the report, landfill gas made up 3.10 percent of the city's renewable energy. The current system consists of wind, solar and landfill gas that all total 15.65 percent.

The fire directly impacted the landfill's production of renewable energy, which dropped from 1,537 to 643 megawatts per hour.

The city still surpassed its renewable energy target for 2018 by 0.65 percent, but Williams said having one of the three generators offline will make a difference.

"It will have some impact, but, at this point in time, it's too early to tell how much impact it will have on the renewable energy portfolio itself," Williams said.

The city is looking to add a fourth and final generator to the existing Biogas plant. The report said the project has already been funded and unit will be installed after a study on renewable natural gas is completed. 

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