By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
JOHNSTON, R.I. — A day after an explosion at the landfill-gas power plant near the Central Landfill, officials worry that a widespread odor problem will return.
“I don’t want to have an epidemic like we did 16 to 18 months ago,” Mayor Joseph Polisena said.
Polisena toured the BroadRock Gas Service power plant Wednesday with state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) director Janet Coit. Polisena said he and Coit noticed a faint odor, prompting DEM to issue a letter to BroadRock ordering it to burn off the escaping landfill gases or use them as fuel.
Gases released from the BroadRock facility, not the state landfill, are suspected of causing the odors, according to DEM officials. Some of the gases, such as methane, are also potent greenhouse gases.
In 2011, the 40-megawatt landfill-gas-powered energy plant completed construction of a $150 million power-generation plant. Both the new and older power-generation plant have been closed due to the explosion.
The 4 a.m. explosion on July 16 damaged pipes and other equipment. There were no injuries. Polisena said the cause of the incident is being investigated by fire officials.
Persistent odor complaints in 2011 were blamed on a series of factors: heavy rain, a faulty gas vacuum system and noxious trash in the landfill. An ongoing legal dispute between the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation and BroadRock resulted.
The complaints receded after stepped-up monitoring and new restrictions on landfill materials. The odor problems resurfaced in late June. The plant was closed July 9 by local officials after makeshift methods to vent gases were discovered.
Polisena said the plant resumed operation last week, but without approval from local officials. “So, they went back online but didn’t inform the building inspector and fire marshal,” the mayor said. “They don’t seem to be following the rules.”
The facility is currently padlocked and employees aren't allowed on the premises during the investigation. The company didn't respond to requests for comment.
The plant will resume operation, Polisena said, when it passes an official inspection.