Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority Strives for Net Zero Energy Use by 2020

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The Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) www.ccmua.org. is well known for its initiatives to incorporate green and grey Infrastructure improvements into its system as well as financing these improvements through the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Financial Program (NJEIFP), a joint low-rate funding program of the DEP and the NJEIT.  With the savings from the NJEIFP's low-cost financing, the CCMUA has been able to afford and construct more capital infrastructure projects and, as a result, is moving closer towards achieving its goal of becoming 100% energy self-sufficient by 2020. For this effort, the CCMUA has gained recognition as a "Net Zero Hero" by the US EPA. For more information on EPA's Net Zero initiative, visit https://www.epa.gov/water-research/promoting-sustainability-through-net-zero-strategies. 

Components of the CCMUA's Net Zero Program: 

I. ENERGY REDUCTION: In an effort to become more energy efficient, the CCMUA has undertaken a number of critical projects in recent years to reduce the amount of energy required to run its operations:  
a. Sedimentation Tank Upgrades: By optimizing the primary stage of the treatment process through natural gravity, the CCMUA was able to remove a greater volume of solids and thereby rely less on the energy-intensive pure oxygen aeration system. This component of the project was funded with $10 million in low-cost funds from the NJEIFP and significantly reduced energy usage in the secondary treatment stage. 

b. Aeration System Upgrades: Significant upgrades to the aeration system enhanced efficiency in the secondary treatment process and further reduced CCMUA's energy usage. This component of the project was funded with $15 million in low-cost funds from the NJEIFP and, with the sedimentation tank upgrades, collectively reduced the CCMUA's energy consumption needs by approximately 25%. 

II. ENERGY PRODUCTION: With a lower energy load, the CCMUA has focused on implementing the following alternative energy projects to lessen its dependency on outside energy providers: 
a. Solar Panel Array: CCMUA has completed the installation of a 7,200-panel solar array which will generate approximately 10% of the CCMUA's energy needs. The projected savings are approximately $300,000 in energy costs during the first year of the project and approximately $7 million over the life of the 15-year power purchase agreement with their contractor, Heliosage. The CCMUA will not be responsible for capital costs or ongoing maintenance costs but will instead be paying a monthly solar power bill at rates well below prevailing utility rates. For perspective, the 1.8 MWs of clean, renewable energy produced by the solar array provides enough electricity to cover over 1,100  homes per year. 

b. Sludge Digester and Combined Heat & Power: CCMUA is in the planning phase to construct a sludge digester which will reduce the amount of sludge generated at the plant by 50% and dramatically reduce odor emissions. 50% of the sludge will be digested and converted into biogas. A planned Combined Heat & Power facility (CHP) will then convert the biogas into electricity. The remaining 50% will then go through the sludge drying facility which will also be financed through NJEIFP. The CHP project has been designed and is in the process of being bid for contract. It is estimated that this project will generate enough biogas and subsequent electricity to produce between 50-60% of the energy needed to run the plant, render the plant more resilient, and significantly reduce its carbon footprint. This project will also be funded with a $31.5 million low-cost loan from the NJEIFP.  

c. Sustainability Loop: The CCMUA is constructing a Sustainability Loop wherein treated effluent will be transferred to a "Trash-to-Steam" incinerator for use as cooling water, and the incinerator will send electricity generated from trash to the CCMUA. The effluent will replace one million gallons of groundwater per day that would otherwise be withdrawn for use by the incinerator from a critical water supply area. The project has been conceptually approved by the NJ Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and the CCMUA has received a planning grant in the amount of $150,000 from the BPU to help implement the electricity component. The sustainability loop project is expected to provide approximately 30% of CCMUA's energy needs. 

According to Andy Kricun, Executive Director of the CCMUA, "Wastewater utilities have an important mission to protect the public health and to protect waterways from pollution. In the face of increasingly severe storms, like Sandy and Harvey, and the corresponding increased risk of power outages, wastewater plants can reduce their vulnerability to power outages by implementing green energy initiatives. In addition, green energy initiatives reduce a wastewater treatment plant's carbon footprint so our industry does its part to combat global warming and climate change when we adopt green energy alternatives. The CCMUA is committed to being 100% off the grid and 100% green energy by 2020 through implementation of energy conservation, solar power and electricity from bio-solids and solid waste."  

The CCMUA, through this initiative, deserves the US EPA's recognition as a leader of innovative energy efficiency policies that can guide and inspire other Utility Authorities to consider working toward similar goals.  

Picture courtesy of CCMUA.

Published 02/09/2018