Simple to Advanced: Colorado Plant Cuts Energy Usage By Nearly 20 Percent

"Simple to Advanced" – Improvements ranging from new light fixtures to a breakthrough solar installation help a Colorado plant cut energy usage by nearly 20 percent.

Virgil Turner discusses how a revolutionary photovoltaic system and a focus on the energy use line item of a budget helped his community cut it’s energy bill by 17.5 percent in four years.

Hosted by Doug Day.


Doug Day: This is Doug Day with Treatment Plant Operator Magazine. This podcast is about Montrose, Colorado, and the success they've seen with energy efficiency at the waste water treatment plant, including a new and unique solar installation. You can get much more information about the industry by visiting Virgil Turner is our guest today. And Virgil, let's start with the solar project. This is a really interesting application of solar photovoltaic technology.

Virgil Turner: Yes you're right Doug. This is a concentrating solar PV. We use both electricity or we're gaining electricity from the PV cells, but we're also using the heat from the concentrating PV as well. Brightleaf energy has a very unique product, with the concentrating PV. Concentrating PV is not a new development  but on a smaller scale like we are using, they do have a unique place in the market. They are taking a reflector and reflecting the sun's power onto a very small solar cell. This solar cell, you can imagine, the concentrated rays of the sun showing up on a cell about the size of your small fingernail, will create a lot of heat. Normally, that's a problem to get rid of that waste heat. The solar generation from that is much more efficient than a legacy panel, but you are also creating this waste heat that, if you put it into use, it's no longer waste heat, and it's actually producing BTUs that we can use elsewhere in the plant. 23kW is the rating on the photovoltaic electric production from that. We're actually doing a lot better than that and it's been rated at 57 kilowatts when we add in the thermal heat, the BTUs that we get from the waste heat from the cooling of the cells. I think that's what makes it very innovative, and it brings the cost down when you have a use for that waste heat.

Doug Day: One thing you mentioned is the focus you put on a single line item of budgets, the utility costs. Did that help you appreciate the opportunities at the waste water plant?

Virgil Turner: Absolutely. You know, when you're trying to reduce budgets, you eye first goes to those large ticket items. Utility costs were one of those large items. That's where we started concentrating our efforts when we started looking across the board and especially at the waste water treatment plant. Our energies at the waste water treatment plant was about 1/3 of the entire energy use for the entire city. That's why we really started focusing in on the waste water treatment plant.

Doug Day: Your job is city-wide, so what types of things have you done elsewhere across the organization?

Virgil Turner: We started looking at our largest ten facilities across the organization for energy use. Our first thing was, really, just to raise awareness. Prior to our efforts, folks just kind of skipped over that line on the budget and said you know there's nothing we can do about energy cost. And I think I was one of the first ones to say yes, I think we can do some things, we can impact our energy costs through energy efficiency and eventually renewable energy. Once we kind of got through that awareness stage, we just started really focusing on each individual facility and looking for opportunities and low hanging fruit, if you will. And so one of the major initiatives that we did was an energy performance contract in which we completed a technical energy audit of all of those facilities, including the waste water treatment plant, to look for engineered energy conservation measures that we could implement.

Doug Day: That low hanging fruit had a rather large impact, about a 10% savings. Did that surprise you?

Virgil Turner: You know, I think it was a surprise, but I've latched on to that and as I've talked to other folks about our successes here and looked at other people, other organizations' successes, just raising awareness and watching your utility bills can easily gain you that 10%.  Just turning off things that don't need to be running, such as heaters during warmer weather, fans when no one is in a location.  We've tried to inform people of various things like turning off lights. And just those little things like that, just raising the awareness I think is a pretty easy guess that you're gonna gain 10% in savings.

Doug Day: Can you do it alone or do you need an energy management firm to help out?

Virgil Turner: We certainly benefitted from having an energy management firm along the way, although we started the effort and when we brought in an energy services company, they were pretty amazed with the success that we've had without their help.  I would say there's no time like the present to get started.  You don't have to have a big sack of money to hire an energy services company to actually start making a difference. And then look at some of your savings that you're gaining to dig deeper into your energy efficiency measures.  And to do that you may need some assistance from an energy engineer.

Doug Day: Virgil, you have an odd job title, Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement.  Describe how that works in action both from the innovation side and the citizen engagement side of your job duties.

Virgil Turner: I was formally Administrative Services Director for the city and while some of my job duties have stayed the same, a lot of them have changed.  The innovation part comes through the city's commitment to look at all aspects of how we do business in a new and fresh way. I think my job title in and of itself speaks to the management style that we have here at the city of looking for better ways to do things, not settling for the way things have always been done.  Certainly looking at energy and saving money in our energy efficiency efforts and renewable energy efforts is a big part of that.  We're also looking at ways to save the taxpayer dollars and we do a lot of shared services, and so I'm in charge of looking for opportunities not just within our government, but looking to other government entities to see if there's an opportunity to work together to implement efficiencies of scale and scope that could save, ultimately save the taxpayer their hard earned money and let them spend it the way they want to spend it. From a citizen engagement side of things, I'm working on several initiatives.  We want to  see if there's way that we can engage the citizens to take our data, for instance, through  open data and develop applications that they may see a need for. I think a good example is building permit information and folks that use that on a daily basis to look for opportunities to enter into contracts with folks that are building properties.  We have a lot of information that they could find helpful and by making that type of data available, they'll be able to value-add to that data and perhaps fill a market.

Doug Day: With the success you've seen in the area of energy use, what kind of possibilities do you envision for both the near term and long term energy management?

Virgil Turner: We still have a long ways to go I think in our waste water treatment.  One of the tools we've used in the past to help us is a product from the EPA Energy Star called Portfolio Manager.  And it allows you to create a baseline to compare our waste water treatment plants across the country. I think our waste water treatment plant's energy use is still kind of in the mid-range.  We haven't broke over the top into the top 50 percentile of efficient plants in the nation.  So one of our goals is to keep raising that and maybe up into the top 25. You know, of course focus on the basics, in-flow and infiltration reduction.  If the water, if the in-fluid doesn't come into your plant, then you don't have to treat it and that saves energy.  Water conservation in and of itself, I think helps with that.  And we've seen a reduction in our costs by reducing water usage. So those are some of the basics.  I think once we get through more of our energy efficiency measures, renewable energy I think will start making much more sense to us.  So if we're using a lot less energy to begin with, higher cost renewable energy will more than likely make sense to continue with projects like we did with BrightLeaf Energy.

Doug Day: Thanks to Virgil Turner for joining us today. This is Doug Day with Treatment Plant Operator Magazine, which you can see online at


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