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Brookfield to generate electricity from sewage

Ron Eifler, manager of the Fox River Water Pollution Control Center, checks agitators inside one of two gravity belt thickeners that allow liquids to separate from biosolids, the remnants of the wastewater treatment process. The biosolids then pass to digesters, which could soon be powered by electricity made from gas released by sewage.

Ron Eifler, manager of the Fox River Water Pollution Control Center, checks agitators inside one of two gravity belt thickeners that allow liquids to separate from biosolids, the remnants of the wastewater treatment process. The biosolids then pass to digesters, which could soon be powered by electricity made from gas released by sewage. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Dec. 16, 2013

With help from a $500,000 grant, city of Brookfield officials are crafting plans to use the biogas that comes from sewage to generate electricity for its wastewater treatment plant, the Fox River Water Pollution Control Center.

"We have to burn the biogas anyway to get rid of it, so now we're using it instead of wasting it," Public Works Director Thomas Grisa said. "We're being green in two ways — economically and environmentally.

The grant, accepted by the city's Water and Sewer Board on Dec. 10, is part of Focus on Energy's Renewable Energy Competitive Incentive Program, which is meant to encourage municipalities, schools, farms and companies to install renewable energy systems.

When the system is complete, by the summer of 2015, the biogas will be used in two ways. It will heat the plant's sewage digesters, which would otherwise need to be heated by natural gas, saving about $41,000 per year. It also will be burned to produce about 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, saving about $164,000 annually. For perspective, the plant used about 7 million kilowatt hours last year.

The plant had previously been using the biogas to heat its digesters, but it had to stop when it bought new boilers that were too sensitive to the poor gas quality — biogas is high in moisture. The new equipment will condition the gas so that it can again be used for heating, and newly for electricity.

The full project, including a new generator and the gas-conditioning equipment, will cost about $2.75 million, with the money coming from the grant and wastewater treatment funds.

Some of the funding could come from capital reserves, but the bulk of it likely will be borrowed, city Finance Director Robert Scott said.

The money likely will be repaid over about 20 years, with about half coming from sewer fees charged to city residents, and half from sewer fees charged to other communities that use the plant, including Menomonee Falls, Pewaukee and the town of Brookfield. Spread over the years, Scott said, the impact to sewer fees would be slight. No tax money would be used.

The city estimates the investment will pay for itself in energy savings within 17 years, not accounting for the potential for energy costs to increase. If energy costs increase by 5 percent annually, the payback would be realized within eight years.

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