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Denton officials investigating garbage dump operations: Landfill mining ends before it starts

An experimental program to mine Denton’s landfill for recyclable materials could be stopped before it ever starts.

The city’s Public Utilities Board will consider the future of the nascent program during its regular meeting Monday morning. The board will also hear reports from two other consultants who are assessing operations at Denton Municipal Electric.

Two years ago, the city’s Solid Waste Department brought in experts from the University of Texas at Arlington to research possible mining of the landfill. Both the PUB and the City Council received briefings on what the city could expect from mining the landfill; specifically, that the city could expect to recover recyclable material that could be sold and the city could reclaim the landfill space for future operations.

Solid Waste Department officials told city leaders that they planned to mine the landfill by the middle of 2016. The City Council approved an investment of $4.56 million in equipment and other expenses. The department had spent $3.51 million before the program was halted this year.

To date, none of the landfill has been mined and the department has not been able to address "operational challenges" such as how to capture methane gas releases, according to a memo to the City Council. The department did not order a financial analysis or a feasibility study before starting the program.

The City Council recently hired a consultant, Dallas-based Weaver, to thoroughly assess the department and its operations.

The department also was in the middle of converting its fleet of garbage trucks from diesel-fueled to compressed natural gas before city leaders realized long-term losses could approach the multi-millions. The department had bet that the price of diesel would become higher than CNG. But it didn't happen. That program, too, has been halted and city leaders are doing what they can to stem financial losses, which are still expected to reach about $1 million.

The city staff will present the financial prospects for landfill mining  before seeking the PUB's recommendation for the program. Then, the PUB’s recommendation will go before the City Council on Tuesday.

Denton Municipal Electric 

Another consultant, Enterprise Risk Consulting, is scheduled to update the PUB on Denton Municipal Electric’s energy purchases.

Enterprise Risk Consulting, of Austin, helped the city of Georgetown put together a plan that powers its city with essentially 100 percent renewable energy.

Denton plans to walk away from coal-fired power next year and purchase increasing amounts of electricity with long-term contracts from wind and solar farms.

The consultant is expected to show how Denton can come close to 100 percent renewable energy. In addition, the consultant is expected to show how the city can run the Denton Energy Center — the city’s controversial new, natural gas-fired power plant — enough to be able to repay the $265 million in bonds that funded the project.

Another consultant, Deloitte, has been studying DME’s energy trading group. A small department inside the city-owned utility buys and sells electricity on the Texas grid. Most city-owned utilities contract for trading services. DME officials have said they could save money for ratepayers by running the trades themselves. Deloitte will share its analysis with the PUB on Monday.

Both the consulting reports on DME are expected to be made final for the City Council next month.

The PUB meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the council workroom at City Hall, 215 E. McKinney St. Both PUB and City Council meetings are live-streamed on the city’s website.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.

FEATURED PHOTO: Two men stand atop a hill of garbage at the Denton landfill. (Jeff Woo/DRC file photo)