In a first-of-its-kind arrangement, Caldwell County has joined forces with two private companies and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and power research projects.

Under a draft agreement, the county will authorize Greenhouse Gas Services, an Arlington, Va.-based company, to be financially responsible for the capture and documentation of flared methane gas at the former Mt. Herman landfill in Hudson.

Meanwhile, Internet search and applications giant Google has agreed in principle to make a one-time $165,000 payment to build a 4,000-square-foot research greenhouse at the landfill site that would be used by CCC&TI for its horticulture programs.

In return, Google, which has been building a large data center in Lenoir, would use the carbon gas credits captured by Greenhouse Gas Services to fulfill its overall goal of carbon neutrality. Google would also pay the county $1 per ton for any amounts above 60,000 tons over a three-year period. It is estimated that more than 120,000 tons of landfill gas will be accumulated during a 10-year period.

Greenhouse Gas Services is a joint venture between General Electric Energy Financial Services and The AES Corp.

Though a formal, non-binding agreement has yet to be signed, interim Caldwell County Manager Bobby White said each party has accepted a draft of the deal. The program is the first greenhouse gas emission-reduction cooperative in the country and represents a wider partnership between Google and Greenhouse Gas Services that was announced earlier this month.

"Ours is the first project," White said. "It’s going to be watched by a lot of folks throughout the country."
White and County Commissioner Dr. John Thuss emphasized that the arrangement represents no liability on the part of taxpayers.

"They are up-fronting all of the money," Thuss said about the agreement with Google and Greenhouse Gas Services. "We get all the credit. It’s a win-win for everybody. This is an absolutely fabulous partnership with Google that is going to benefit the county and Google for many, many years."

Thuss added that the county has been proactive in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, which are believed to be contributing factors in global warming. He said this puts the county ahead of legislation that is likely to come from either a Barack Obama or John McCain administration.

"When you’re sitting on a little corner of paradise, you try to protect it," Thuss said. "The greenhouse-to-greenhouse venture allows us to take back greenhouse gases that would have negatively impacted our environment. Innovation is something we take very seriously here and execute proudly."

The county has been flaring the methane gas at the Mt. Herman landfill since March 2007 but has been unable to document the amounts, Thuss said. The flaring process destroys the greenhouse gas before it enters the atmosphere. It also can be converted into a power source for the new greenhouse building.

That’s where CCC&TI comes in with its horticulture programs for a county that already is ranked in the top three in the state for nursery agricultural production. Using assistance from Caldwell County Cooperative Extension, the school will be able to use the greenhouse for new horticulture technologies, tissue culture studies and other programs.

"Agriculture is important to the county economy, and our landscape/gardening program reflects that in its popularity as a career program," CCC&TI President Ken Boham said. "Our efforts emphasizing green technology and best practices … make this sustainable project beneficial to students and the county. It can also serve as an example to other institutions. This project reflects world-class companies, partnering with world-class institutions, creating world-class solutions."

Google has made environmental progress a key focus though its philanthropic arm, Last month, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company made a $10.25 million investment for research into geothermal technology.

"Turning a problem into a solution, that is what we are trying to accomplish," Google energy analyst Eliah Gilfenbaum said. "Methane gas reclamation from some of North Carolina’s landfills represents an important step forward in creating clean, renewable and homegrown energy sources."

Greenhouse Gas Services CEO Mauricio Vargas added, "We believe that the co-development project with Google will serve as a model as to how organizations can reduce their carbon footprint. We’re working with Google at an on-site, local level to create (greenhouse gas) credits that will have an effect globally."

Note: This article is reprinted with the permission of the Lenoir News-Topic.