Persistence and patience are bringing a payback to an upstate New York wastewater treatment plant, and facility officials say there could be even more to come. In 2007 the Town of Williamson began applying for grants to help ease the financial pain of upgrades to its 625,000 gpd contact stabilization treatment plant. But whether the sources were local, state or federal sources, the rejection notices kept coming.
“It just seemed our sewer rates were too low for us to attract and qualify for any available maintenance-related funding,” says chief operator John Manahan. “But I’m a real proponent of green energy, so when I was approached in early 2009 by a local consulting firm to apply for federal stimulus funds tagged for green innovation, I was all for it.”
About six months later the town received a $700,000 grant through the State of New York Environmental Facilities Corporation to integrate a variety of improvements that would improve energy efficiency, create renewable energy, and manage stormwater runoff with green infrastructure.
Awarded under the Green Innovation Grant Program, the money paid for improvements in rainwater harvesting, an array of solar units, energy-efficient lighting, a high-efficiency boiler, and pipeline leak detection equipment. It even paid for a green roof to replace a leaking roof on the main process building.
“We didn’t get any funds for maintenance items like painting or repair of the process tanks, but we were awarded the innovative part, and that has helped us a lot,” says Manahan.
The 1,200-square-foot green roof solved a big problem for the plant, because the town was trying to get budget approval for hot-tarring only one portion of the two-tier roof to eliminate the leaking. But instead the roof was converted to green and serves as a demonstration green roof for the Williamson area.
The green roof is planted with drought-resistant grass and ground cover and is only part of an overall water efficiency effort. Gutters and downspouts were plumbed to drain into a newly buried 2,500-gallon fiberglass tank, which also receives runoff captured in the green roof’s membrane. A pump delivers water from the tank to two hose bibs for use by operators to clean process tanks and to wash trucks and other equipment.
In-kind work by plant operators contributed 10 percent to the value of the grant and consisted mainly of excavation. Many underground cables had to be relocated, and since Manahan and assistant operator Joseph English knew their location, it made sense for them to rent the equipment and do the work themselves. They also did landscaping, which included reseeding the excavation for the buried tank and replanting some small shrubs.
But the most obvious change to the landscape came from a 60 kW solar photovoltaic array that produces 80,000 kWh and saves more than $8,000 each year. Located near the plant entrance and highly visible to passers-by are 260 of the 2- by 4-foot post-mounted solar panels, which incline toward the south about eight feet above ground. The only maintenance required is keeping them clear of snow, which accumulates only during 3- to 4-inch snowfalls. Lighter snowfalls melt and heavier snowfalls slide off the panels.
The solar array draws many visitors to the plant, as does the green roof. The plant also saves energy from a change to more efficient lighting and the addition of motion detectors to control interior and exterior lights.
Manahan says the plant’s energy and water conservation improvements are part of the community’s long-term sustainability plan. The success of the solar installation at the treatment plant influenced town leaders’ decision to add one at the town hall, as well. “We are now looking at adding a windmill generator to supplement our solar energy,” Manahan says. “That will really change our landscape.”