Work begins on a project that will convert landfill waste to energy.

Gundersen Lutheran Health System, La Crosse, Wis., took a major step on its path toward energy independence with the start of a $3.75 million project that will enable it to sell electricity to a local utility while capturing enough energy to heat one of its campuses.

Through a partnership with Gundersen Lutheran, the La Crosse County Solid Waste Department will pipe biogas consisting of about 50 percent methane from a county landfill to the health system's Onalaska campus about 1.6 miles away.

An engine-generator at the Onalaska campus will convert the methane gas to 8.5 million kwh of electricity annually that Gundersen Lutheran will sell to Xcel Energy. Gundersen Lutheran expects to receive an estimated $650,000 annually from the utility, says Corey Zarecki, director of engineering and operations, GL Envision, a Gundersen Lutheran subsidiary.

In addition, waste heat captured from the engine-generator exhaust will replace 150,000 therms of natural gas needed to supply heat and hot water for the Onalaska campus, Zarecki says. The system will enable the three-building campus to achieve special status by year's end, he adds.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is going to be the first energy-independent health care campus in the nation," Zarecki says.

Overall, the energy project will offset about 11 percent of Gundersen Lutheran's total energy needs, making it a major piece in the health system's plan to become energy independent by 2014.

La Crosse County will assume responsibility of the pipeline and a compressor installed at the landfill to remove moisture and other particulates from the biogas. Gundersen Lutheran will install, operate and maintain the engine-generator.