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Schenectady saving $30,000 monthly by running own sewer plant

Schenectady saving $30,000 monthly by running own sewer plant

When the city took over the wastewater treatment plant last year, opponents questioned whether the m

When the city took over the wastewater treatment plant last year, opponents questioned whether the move would actually save money.

Now, figures from the first 90 days are in, and the city says it is saving $30,000 a month.

Even more will be saved in electrical costs with the plant’s new energy system, which harnesses methane to reduce the need to buy electricity from National Grid. Those figures will be announced at the beginning of May.

“It’s going well,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said. “We’re in very good shape.”

He had predicted the city would save $1 million a year.

Superintendent Paul Lafond said much of the savings thus far comes from decreased overtime. When contractor Veolia ran the plant, the contract called for the city to pay all overtime. Now that the plant is under the city’s control, some shifts have been rearranged to avoid overtime, Lafond said.

The city is also able to take in revenue from the plant, for the first time. Sewage haulers throughout the county pay to bring their waste to the facility. Veolia was allowed to keep all of that revenue under the old contract.

“So we’re saving in revenue we have now,” Lafond said.

Also, the city runs the plant for a little less than it cost to pay Veolia to run it, he said.

“Some of the savings is their margin,” he said. “No offense meant — they’re a private company. They have to make a profit.”

Veolia had proposed a new contract last year that would have allowed the company to also keep revenue from the savings in electrical costs. McCarthy refused, and after negotiations broke down, he said the city would take over the plant.

Neighbors had mixed feelings about the switch. Some residents had welcomed Veolia because they thought a private company would put an end to the odors that often emanated from the plant.

Before Veolia was hired, residents said the smells were sometimes so bad that they could not sleep, even after closing their windows.

Smells occur when the plant develops a leak or machinery breaks down.

Some residents said Veolia fixed odor problems quickly when they occurred, but other residents said the plant still produced so many smells that the city was unlikely to do worse.

So far, residents said it’s too early to tell whether the plant smells worse under city management.

Also unknown is the plant’s electrical savings, which may be significant. The city pays more than $700,000 a year for electricity at the plant, and the new methane power system that started this year was estimated to save about 30 percent of that electrical bill. The process also reduces the amount of materials workers need to add to the sewage sludge, saving the city an estimated $37,000 a year.

But those estimates were written in 2008. The power system only just started running, four years later. The system collects methane from the sewage and uses it for power. It cost $5 million to build. Grants covered about half of that bill, and the city is still paying down a loan for the rest.

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