What's that smell? Just your local government turning gas into gold

Sometimes it seems as though the only thing that irks taxpayers more than tax increases are the ways government finds to avoid them.

We saw it when the county started using red-light cameras, then speed cameras. "They're not about public safety," the critics moaned, "they're all about revenue generation," as if the two are mutually exclusive.

Now some folks in Marriottsville are up in arms about a county plan to use methane from the landfill there to generate electricity. They're worried about emissions and noise, but they also have raised the ominous specter of government turning a buck without turning to the taxpayer.

If the county puts a generator on the site, they figure, it will create the irresistible temptation to turn it into a cash cow. Next thing you know, they'll be trucking in trash from all over and turning it into megawatts they can sell to the region's utilities.

It's a plausible theory except for one thing: The county already hauls the bulk of its refuse away, specifically to a landfill in Virginia, as Alpha Ridge doesn't have a whole lot of room left.

County officials insist that, at best, the generator would defray some of the landfill's operational costs. Chances are, the $3.9 million project will more or less break even.

But if the county were to come out ahead on this deal, would that really be a bad thing? After all, that money could turn into a tax cut, or a new school, or a road project. Yes, some dunderheaded public servant could also do something foolish with it, but that's bound to happen anyway unless vigilant citizens and cooler heads prevail.

Alpha Ridge has actually been burning methane since 1999 and that flare will continue to burn even after the generator comes online at the end of next year. But after that, at least some of the rotten-egg-smelling gas will turn into a positive and not just smoke.

The neighboring residents have every right to be concerned about this plan, and are to be applauded for asking pointed questions about its implications for their health and quality of life. But its potential for filling county coffers seems an odd objection.

Volt is a jolt

County Executive Ken Ulman gets a lot of grief about his environmental initiatives, which some view as frivolous. These folks got some more material this week as Ulman did a photo op with the county's newest vehicle, a Chevy Volt. It's got a gas tank, but its main propulsion system is electric. It gets about 40 miles per charge.

That means frequent fuel-ups, so for the car to be practical requires a network of charging stations. The county has just opened five at its office complex on Bendix Road, in Columbia. Electric-auto drivers can juice up there for free.

Cars like the Volt present a chicken-and-egg dilemma. People will hesitate to drive these energy-saving vehicles until more charging stations pop up, but until more electric cars are on the road, building the stations will be a tough sell.

That's why it's necessary for government to take a hand. Somebody's got to get the ball rolling.

Am I ready for some football?

You're already familiar with the Volt if you've watched any football at all this season. Chevrolet has been running a pretty clever commercial that imagines a world where everything — alarm clocks, toasters, computers — runs on gasoline to amusing effect.

Sunday's thriller in Pittsburgh put the Baltimore Ravens in the driver's seat in their division in the National Football League and has put me in a much better frame of mind with regard to gridiron activities.

This is our younger daughter's senior year at Howard High and the Lions have a playoff game this week at River Hill. I usually catch a game or two every season since our first-born was a freshman, but haven't been to any this year.

Given River Hill's dominance in recent seasons, I haven't been optimistic about Howard's chances. But if the Ravens can win in Pittsburgh after the way they've stumbled the previous two weeks, who knows? Any given Friday, right?

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad