Gresham, OR Turns Waste Into Energy

City wastewater treatment plant has gone from power consumer to power producer

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Photo courtesy of City of Gresham

A city long known for its passionate commitment to environmental sustainability has just achieved a major goal in its visionary plan for energy independence.

Once the city’s largest electric power consumer, as of spring 2015 Gresham, Ore.’s wastewater treatment facility produces all its own power, the first energy-independent wastewater treatment plant in the Pacific Northwest and only the second in the U.S. The upgraded plant is expected to save the city $500,000 annually and produce $250,000 annually in revenues collected from recycling fats, oils, and grease.

Treatment Plant Project Wins Award

“This is a big accomplishment. We’ve been planning and executing this for 10 years with our partner Energy Trust,” says city spokesperson Wendy Lawton. Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit that helps communities save energy and generate renewable power, won a 2014 State Leadership in Clean Energy Award from the Clean Energy States Alliance for its technical assistance and cash incentives for the project.

The Net Zero goal was the brainchild of senior wastewater treatment plant engineer Alan Johnston, who found immediate support from the city council, which has continued to back the project even as council members changed, Lawton says. 
The plant now operates with two cogenerators that burn the gas produced in the waste treatment process. The plant also grows its own power through a 420-kilowatt solar array on site, and its FOG (fats, oils and grease) recycling. In addition to keeping grease from sewers, FOG realizes about $250,000 annually in tipping fees.

“It’s a wonderful example of government ingenuity, of government practicality,” Lawton says. “We all need to do more with less, including money. Reaching net zero at the plant means we have more to spend on things like police, fire protection and parks.”

Sustainability for the Future

The newly updated plant is perhaps the most ambitious aspect of Gresham’s far-reaching vision spelled out in the city’s 2011 Sustainable Gresham Initiative. Among its impressive goals: an 80 percent reduction in the city’s greenhouse gases by 2050; 100 percent renewable energy by 2030; reduction and eventual elimination of toxins in the environment; and zero waste in city operations by 2020.

The community has been vigorous in pursuing those goals. A citizen Natural Resources and Sustainability Committee advises the city council. Public works vehicles include hybrids, and other vehicles are fueled by biodiesel. All city facilities have upgraded light, plumbing and HVAC systems. More than 8,000 street lights – every one in the city - are being outfitted with LED bulbs. Coordinated traffic signals cut down on engine idling. Curbside recycling is widely popular. The city has added many miles of bike trails and has purchased land to preserve green space.

“Sustainability has been a real priority for Mayor (Shane) Bemis and the city council,” Lawton says. “It always feels good to be a leader in sustainability. It’s the right thing to do for the community and the planet.”

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It always feels good to be a leader in sustainability. It’s the right thing to do for the community and the planet."

Wendy Lawton

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Hill is a former reporter/columnist for the Tennessean and a contributor to Journal Communications publications since 1996. She enjoys travel, food, jazz, Titans football, he... more

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Wed, 02/28/2018 - 21:29