Providing safe, high-quality services while maintaining secure, reliable collection and distribution systems is a top priority for all water and wastewater utility mangers. The job certainly is not easy, and frequently it requires a delicate balance between rate increases and expenditure cuts.
Increasing energy costs, however, burden the balancing act, draining budgetary resources that already are stretched to the max. According to Watergy, the Alliance to Save Energy, between 2% and 3% of the world’s energy consumption is used to pump and treat water for urban residents and industry, and energy consumption in the water and wastewater sectors is expected to increase by 33% in the next 20 years due to population growth.
Yes indeed, I am again talking about the nexus of water and energy. If you find the topic dated and tired, you better brace yourself … the interdependence of water and energy is only going to grow. In the last few years alone, we have seen increased commitments by water agencies to reduce energy consumption and look for alternative means to supplement their energy needs.
Alternative energy examples are popping up from coast to coast. Take the Helix Water District in La Mesa, Calif. It partnered with Borrego Solar Systems to create a new solar power source in East County that will produce 90% of the power used by Helix’s Nat L. Eggert Operations Center. The district utilized the roof space of its operations center to install solar panels and converted the open space in the storage yard to a solar panel-topped structure in order to take advantage of the clean technology.
Borrego Solar also provided the financing for the district’s system through a power purchase agreement, which allows customers to enjoy all the benefits of solar energy without the upfront capital expense. Essentially, Borrego owns the system and provides the power to the Helix Water District at a reduced rate. After a set number of years, the customer can buy the system outright at the depreciated value.
A Black & Veatch microsite, www.nexuswaterenergy.com, also offers insights into this emerging issue. The site features a number of water-energy success stories, such as the actions taken by the Metropolitan District Commission in Hartford, Conn. This district is implementing one of the East Coast’s largest energy-recovery projects. The project will encompass upgrades to the incinerators and processing systems, as well as a new energy-recovery facility to capture heat from the incinerators to produce steam. After its completion, the facility will convert renewable biosolids into power, producing an estimated 1.5 MW of electricity per hour and reducing its power demand and overall energy costs.
As the impact of energy costs on municipal budgets deepens, we will continue to see facilities turning to these types of power-wise decisions.