Power Plant: Proceed With Care

I read with interest your editorial on renewable energy (“You Operate a Power Plant,” TPO, February 2013). We have undertaken many initiatives at the Western Monmouth Utilities Authority’s Pine Brook Treatment Plant to address energy conservation.

We have done the obvious such as lighting retrofits, motion detectors to shut off lights in vacant buildings, installing energy-efficient electric motors and variable-speed drives where feasible, and fine-tuning process controls. In addition, we contracted with a third party to install a 0.8 MW solar field on the plant site. 

They own the system for 15 years, and we purchase the generated power at a reduced rate from what our local power supplier charges. After that, we own the system. Since we are a government agency and were not eligible for credits, the contractor received them, enhancing the economic viability from their perspective. We also entered into a power purchase agreement with another third party, again buying electricity at a reduced rate.

The authority has also extensively explored using digester gas to operate a combined heat and power (CHP) system. This has not yet proven to be a positive from an economic standpoint, as the payback period appears to be too long.

While there is an obvious advantage to generating your own power in this manner, there can also be negatives besides the economic aspect. If you decide to enhance gas production in your digestion system, you may have to construct, operate and maintain a receiving station for grease or whatever else you decide to add to the digesters.

You also may have to truck material to your facility, which in our case means through residential neighborhoods. Odors and spills are a real possibility leading to potential complaints from the public.

As stated in the editorial, methane gas must be conditioned before it is burned in an engine or fuel cell, and this leaves a waste for disposal in some manner. Maintenance and downtime also should be factored into the analysis.

We took all of this into consideration and decided not to move forward on a CHP project at this time. Yes, a third party can be used to construct and operate a CHP system, but it has to be economically viable for them, as well. I am aware of a couple of wastewater facilities in New Jersey that have installed and are operating CHP systems, but my take is that they may have been more interested in being “green” than in having a reliable, economical operation.

With regard to wind power, again it may not be a viable option for everybody. A neighboring authority may spend as much in the end on legal fees fighting the neighboring town’s objections to installing a large wind turbine on the plant site as the actual installation was projected to cost. My point is that whatever you decide to do, make sure you do your homework thoroughly and get the buy-in of all the affected parties before making a commitment.

Dane J. Martindell
Facilities Manager
Western Monmouth Utilities Authority
Manalapan, N.J.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.