Richmond Hill’s new wastewater-treatment plant could be partially powered by solar energy when it opens for business in 2015.
City officials discussed the possibilities of using solar UV panels to help supply some of the new plant’s energy with Coastal Electric engineer Chris Fettes. Coastal is providing the power to the $24 million membrane-bioreactor plant being built at Sterling Creek. The plant will open with the capacity to treat 3 million gallons of wastewater a day — which is twice as large as the current plant — and can be expanded to treat 4 million gallons per day.
It’s unclear how much power it will take to run the new plant, but Fettes said if the current treatment facility is comparable to a “large Parker’s” convenience store, then the new MBR plant — the most expensive project in the city’s history — might be a “Publix and a half, or two Publix.”
And though it will be more costly — at least initially — to have some solar in the mix, Fettes said solar technology is “improving by leaps and bounds,” and also will be a fixed price in contrast to the cost of other resources, such as nuclear power, natural gas or coal. He said those could become more expensive if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moves to make those resources more costly in hopes of convincing power companies to find cleaner energy.
“Our other resources are subject to regulations, (with) the Environmental Protection Agency putting pressure on these resources to become more expensive over time,” Fettes told council members.
While city-council members took no action during Fettes’ presentation, they questioned everything from cost to engineering to land near the plant where solar powers could be erected. Fettes said there are two factors on which to base a decision.
“What’s the right amount of solar, and what’s the cost of that amount,” he said. “But one of the challenges is we don’t know how much energy this new facility is going to require. We know how much the existing facility uses.”
Fettes told council members one option could be to start small, let the plant run a few months to see what a real “load profile is for the facility, not just calculations,” then return with “a more engineered recommendation on how much additional solar to put into place.”
Richmond Hill is under a consent order to build the new plant after its existing treatment facility began running afoul of Georgia Environmental Protection Division regulations which have become tougher to meet, city officials said. The city has spent tens of thousands of dollars for spills and for violating discharge permits in the past decade, and continues to write frequent checks to the EPD to pay for exceeding permitted discharge levels of ammonia.
City Manager Chris Lovell said he wanted council members to know that solar is an option.
“It’s a very cheap way to get our feet wet (using solar),” Lovell said. “Not to mention, it’s probably the right thing to do.”
That prompted a response from Mayor Harold Fowler.
“It’s the cleanest way you can do it,” Fowler said. “You can’t get any cleaner energy.”
Councilman John Fesperman broke in.
“During the daytime,” he said.
“Right, during the daytime,” Fowler said with a chuckle.
If the city elects to go with solar power, Coastal will own, operate and maintain the panels, Lovell said.