Hamilton considers plan to cash in on organic compost
Already designated a green community, the town of Hamilton is considering a plan to use composting as a means of building its bottom line.
The Board of Selectmen recently hired a consultant to study the potential for an anaerobic digestion facility at the former landfill near the Manchester-by-the-Sea town line. Results from the feasibility study, funded by a $20,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection, are expected in early 2012.
Anaerobic digesters speed the composting process and turn organic waste into both compost material and biogas, which can be converted to electrical energy. The town could save money to support its first-in-the-state curbside organic recycling program, reduce energy costs, and also find a use for the former landfill.
Hamilton, with its neighbor Wenham, recently decided to expand a pilot organic curbside recycling program from 600 volunteer households to all interested homes in both towns, with pickups to be scheduled once a week. That compost material currently goes to a farm in Hamilton.
“We are looking at it from both perspectives,’’ said Hamilton town manager Michael Lombardo.
“One is to take our organic matter and save us the cost of disposing of it by sending it to our own facility. Also, [it would provide the opportunity] to use organic matter to generate electricity that we would either use or net-meter back to the grid for credit from our electrical provider.’’
In addition to taking waste from its own recycling program and perhaps from other towns, the facility could accept composting material from other sources, Lombardo said. Farms, food companies, restaurants, and hotels are other potential clients for anaerobic digesters.
“The facility would be inefficient just to do Hamilton and Wenham’s compost,’’ Lombardo said.
The size for an entire operation might typically be 4 to 5 acres, but the specific size of an aerobic digestion system at the landfill is also going to be considered as part of the study, Lombardo said.
The technology has been around for a while in Europe, Lombardo said. “Over the last few years, the United States is just starting to pay attention to the technology.’’
In a best-case scenario, Lombardo envisions the composting facility opening in mid- to late-2014.
Hamilton’s interest comes at a time when the state is promoting the technology. Earlier this fall, the quasi-public Massachusetts Clean Energy Center announced Commonwealth Organics-to-Energy, a program to provide financial support for “construction projects that deploy organics-to-energy technologies,’’ according to a prepared statement, and support activities that help develop additional organics-to-energy capacity.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive interest from cities and towns,’’ said Kate Plourd, a spokeswoman for the center.
If use of the 53-acre former landfill is approved, the town also may find other energy projects for the site. Earlier this year, the town reviewed proposals for future uses, including plans for solar energy facilities. Officials decided to cap the landfill, which will take place in 2012, before determining a future use.