Photo via Ellesmere FNC via Flickr CC
Google is a big promoter of green energy, from dreaming up possibilities of their own (like using wave power for data centers) to investing in and customizing alternative energy projects (like super efficient and cheap solar panels). Now, the Internet giant is moving into promoting landfill waste-to-energy and gaining ground in its goal to be a carbon neutral company by purchasing carbon offsets in a new project in Berkeley County, South Carolina. In a joint effort by the Berkeley County Water & Sanitation (BCWS), Blue Source, Google and Santee Cooper, the Berkeley Green Power Project is turning biogas into about 3 MW of electricity, enough to power 15,000 homes in the Southeast. The project will also create roughly 200,000 to 300,000 metric tons of carbon offsets - equal to the emissions from electricity used by approximately 30,000 to 45,0000 US households annually - at least some of which Google is purchasing.
Environmental Leader writes, "Blue Source will quantify and market the emission reductions in the form of voluntary carbon credits. The company plans to register the third-party verified credits created by the project on the Climate Action Reserve's public registry. The project is said to be the first of its kind to be implemented along South Carolina's coast. The credits Google purchases will be retired and not allowed to be further sold or traded."
The Charleston City Paper states that included in the project is methane flaring, which ultimately reduces how much impact gasses from the landfill have on the environment.
"As odd as it may sound, 'flaring off' or burning the methane as it comes out of the ground greatly reduces the amount of carbon the gas ultimately emits," says Matt Dunne, Google's U.S. community affairs manager.
Methane flaring isn't just a way to ease the burden of the gas on the environment and create a revenue source an "carbon offset" for companies - as noted above, it's also a significant energy source. Globally, the methane flared each year could power about 1/4 of US homes.
In a post by Pablo earlier this year, flaring is a wasteful way to deal with the potential of methane coming off of landfills: "By capturing gases that are currently flared we could displace the need to produce almost 17% of global natural gas production. By replacing the gas you currently use in your kitchen stove with gas from your local landfill and replacing the natural gas used to fuel a power plant with waste gas from an oil field we could reduce global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by 0.5%. This doesn't sound like much but these 400 million tons of CO2 are roughly equivalent to all of the emission reductions achieved under the Kyoto Protocol's mechanisms."
Annika Colston, vice president of Blue Source stated in a press release, "This project is a terrific example of how public and private sectors can work together in the voluntary carbon market to make a positive impact on our environment. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating new sources of energy takes forward-looking actions from various stakeholders such as utility companies, local governments, and the private sector, and this project exemplifies the rewards and benefits available when such progressive actions are undertaken."
Carbon offsets are of course a controversial way for a company to go green. The partnership begs the question, rather than just purchasing carbon offsets for its nearby data center, what if Google utilized the methane itself to actually power the data center? Still, knowing that the gas is at least being captured and used to generate electricity to some extent is a big plus. The less methane that makes it into the atmosphere, the better.
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