After nearly 13 years of converting disposable waste into money, Green Knight Economic Development Corp. has been able to fund $1.6 million or more in economic development projects in the Slate Belt – and continues on its mission to bring industries back to the quarry-ridden community in northern Northampton County.
In 1998, a group of the region’s residents formed a task force with one challenge in mind; to develop a gas-to-energy plant on a local landfill. The plant would harness the methane gas from the landfill’s waste and convert it into electricity, which would then be sold as renewable energy with the profits re-invested into developing the Slate Belt’s neighborhoods.
“We are a community partner and wanted to find a unique way to put money back into the community,” said Scott Perin, district manager of Grand Central Sanitary Landfill in Plainfield Township, a subsidiary of Waste Management.
In 1999, the nonprofit Green Knight Economic Development Corp. was formed to serve communities and businesses in the Pen Argyl School District municipalities of Pen Argyl, Wind Gap and Plainfield Township. (The Pen Argyl High School mascot is the Green Knight, hence the name.)
“Green Knight has a very unique business plan to help economic growth in the Slate Belt,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. “They are somewhat one of the best-kept secrets in the Lehigh Valley.”
Made up of a nine-person volunteer board of directors, Green Knight secured a $9.2 million bank loan and contracted MSG Associates Inc. of Wind Gap to lead the development of the energy plant, with the plant’s profits to go toward getting Slate Belt businesses back on the map.
“So many people in the Slate Belt have to commute to jobs outside of the area,” said Carlton Snyder, founding member and Green Knight president. “With our organization, we hope to turn that around and bring industries back in.”
Two years later in 2001, the Green Knight Energy Center became a reality on land at Grand Central Sanitary Landfill in Plainfield Township. It was the first privately owned energy center in the United States, Snyder said, with the ability to produce nearly 10 megawatts of electric power at one time, enough energy to power almost 8,000 homes.
“This project was a good opportunity to put together a local organization to subsidize economic development in our towns,” Perin said.
Converting methane gas into energy may sound simple, but it is quite complex.