Schenectady County

City to use plant methane for power

The city’s sewage will produce enough methane to power part of the treatment plant, saving the city

The city’s sewage will produce enough methane to power part of the treatment plant, saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said.

The project could also have the side-benefit of taming the periodic noxious odors from the Anthony Street operation.

After two years of testing, Olsen is now confident that the recycling project will work. But it won’t happen immediately — the city is now installing meters to gauge precisely how much methane is created when the city’s sewage decomposes. In about three months, they’ll add equipment designed to force more methane out of the sludge. Early next year, they hope to order the final component — the engines that would turn the methane into electricity.

The engines generally arrive nine to 12 months after they are ordered, so the city will not see a reduction in utility costs until 2010.

But at least Olsen is now confident that there will be a savings some day.

At first he feared the cost of the electricity generators and gas collectors would be prohibitive. City officials dismissed the idea when it first came up, years ago, because of the expenses involved in buying the equipment. That worry was partially relieved last summer when NYSERDA offered the city a $1 million grant to pay for start-up costs.

But even then, Olsen had reservations. He wasn’t sure the plant produced enough methane to make the system worthwhile.

Now, the data is clear: Schenectady is gassy enough to light up the plant for years.

“I firmly believe we’ll go forward with this,” Olsen said. “The payback will be significant, enough to more than cover the cost over time.”

The city spends more than $700,000 a year on electricity for the plant. The methane-power system would provide some of the plant’s electricity, but not quite half, Olsen predicted.

The conversion would also help the city council meet its goal of reducing governmental pollution by 1 percent to 2 percent each year.

“The electricity we generate there could significantly reduce our costs as well as our carbon footprint,” Olsen said.

Neighbors would notice a big change too: the plant won’t smell as bad.

Some of the sludge methane is already being used to heat a sludge boiler, but the rest is burned off in a flare above the sludge building. Residents have occasionally complained about the smell of that flare.

The methane itself is odorless, but impurities that mix with the gas during the treatment process have a distinctively unpleasant aroma.

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