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Energy and Wastewater Treatment

Winter 2015 Issue

Wastewater treatment facilities use approximately 1 to 1.5 percent of the state's energy to move and clean wastewater. Increasing energy efficiency at treatment plants, or obtaining needed energy from burning digester gas, can result in big savings in addition to cleaner air. So, reducing energy use at wastewater treatment plants has become a high priority for many municipalities.

Many operators have started with incremental changes to begin lowering energy bills and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, consistently replacing worn out equipment with more energy efficient models is a simple, yet effective, strategy. Another option is asset management and planning. The NYSDEC is encouraging municipalities to complete and implement asset management plans for their wastewater facilities that focus on energy efficiency, in addition to proper facility maintenance and resiliency in the face of extreme weather.

Facilities that want to reduce energy bills while limiting ratepayer costs have a number of resources they can turn to. The USEPA, for example, has developed a step-by-step workbook to help municipalities reduce energy use. You can access the workbook, plus other guidebooks, on EPA's website (a direct link is available on the right hand side of this page under "offsite links").

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has the Water and Wastewater Energy Management Best Practices Handbook to provide information on effectively developing and implementing an energy conservation program at wastewater treatment facilities is available on NYSERDA's Municipal Water & Wastewater Facilities Tools and Materials webpage (a direct link is available on the right hand side of this page under "offsite links").

The NYSERDA guide includes short fact sheets on specific energy efficiency best management practices. There are approximately 50 best management practices applicable to wastewater treatment operations. The NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation uses NYSERDA's guidance to assist municipalities who pursue financial assistance through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is an option that some municipalities have implemented to condition bio-solids and produce methane and carbon dioxide for power generation. AD is a natural biological process where microorganisms break down biodegradable matter in the absence of oxygen. The AD process generates biogas that can be burned for heat and electricity.

Such operations can present opportunities to reduce energy costs and generate revenue by accepting, at a price, biodegradable waste. More than 130 of the state's wastewater treatment facilities have installed AD capacity, with many of the facilities beneficially using the biogas for heat and power. AD operations offset greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise be associated with burning fossil fuels to heat and power these plants. NYSERDA has a number of resources on anaerobic digestion, achieving a net-zero wastewater treatment facility, and low-energy innovative treatment technologies to view on NYSERDA's Water and Wastewater Technical Reports webpage (a direct link is available on the right hand side of this page under "offsite links").

Today just about everyone wants to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Improving energy efficiency at a wastewater treatment facility can save a community thousands of dollars. The NYSDEC encourages municipalities to use the resources available and make the changes because small incremental investments add up to big savings.