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Dart showing way forward with cogeneration plant

Dart Container Corp. and Granger Energy Services collaborated on Dart's cogeneration system at Dart's plant in Upper Leacock Township, Lancaster County. Photo/Tim Stuhldreher

There are a lot of reasons to like the electricity cogeneration system that Michigan companies Dart Container Corp. and Granger Energy Services collaborated to build at Dart’s Leola plant in Upper Leacock Township.

Dart, a major multinational producer of foam containers, invested more than $20 million in the system, which uses gas from the Conestoga and Lanchester landfills to power two massive turbines. The turbines, encircled by a chain-link fence in a section of the plant’s parking lot, generate about 45 percent of the electricity Dart needs to operate.

Justin Kulp, the Dart employee who helped guide the tours the company organized as part of its ribbon-cutting event, seemed genuinely excited by, and proud of, the system he was showing us and what it represented.

He patiently went over the technical details several times with me. I was visiting Dart for the first time and wanted to be clear on which portions of the project were new and which were pre-existing.

Dart has used landfill gas from the Lanchester Landfill to produce steam for its industrial processes at the plant since 2004, I learned. Granger added the pipeline from the Conestoga Landfill in 2008, tying it into the first pipeline.

The electricity aspect is wholly new. (Dart continues to use the landfill gas to produce about 90 percent of its steam, plant manager Clarence Wenger said.) Dart and Granger began planning the cogeneration project in fall 2010, and began building it in spring 2011, senior facilities manager J.M. Sauder said.

The turbines ran in limited mode starting in December 2011 and came fully online in September, Sauder said. On weekends, when Dart’s power needs are lower, electricity can be exported to the grid, Sauder said.

The control room, which overlooks the turbines from a large window, boasts an impressive array of computer monitors and control equipment. Almost everything can be done from there, operator Ken Frey said.

“It’s amazing what you can do with the click of a mouse anymore,” he said.

The on-site work was “for the most part” done by local companies, said Mike Stoltzfus, the cogeneration facility manager.

The project will produce enough energy to power 6,000 homes, while collecting and channeling the methane from the landfills reduces air pollution as much as reducing gasoline consumption by 54 million gallons a year, Dart said.

One thing about green infrastructure: It can look just as solid and heavily industrial as its conventional counterpart. I’ve already mentioned the control room. The turbines and associated equipment, with their four chimneys rising skyward, reminded me, albeit on a small scale, of the imposing steel works I used to pass along the Parkway East on my family’s trips into Pittsburgh in the 1970s.

State Rep. Gordon Denlinger said he lives just a short distance from Dart and the two landfills. The self-described conservative Republican had nothing but praise for the cogeneration project.

“These kinds of things just fill me with hope and optimism for renewed economic growth and job creation in our state,” he said.

“The transformation of Pennsylvania’s energy economy continues to roll.”

Tim Stuhldreher covers banking, finance, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at tims@centralpennbusiness.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, @timstuhldreher.

Tim Stuhldreher

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