I was recently in Fairhaven to check out the Green Energy Projects there that received approximately $7.9 million in stimulus funding. What I found was the Recovery Act at its very best: the projects involved will enable the town to generate power from waste, upgrade to solar energy and, significantly, they are putting people back to work.
Bill Fitzgerald is Fairhaven’s Board of Public Works Superintendent and he walked me through a description of what the town is able to do with the stimulus grant it got through DEP. Currently, the town has to have its sewer waste – or sludge – trucked out to Cranston, RI. It is in the process of constructing an “anaerobic sludge digestion system,” – a system that will process, or digest, all of the sludge and grease and transform the sludge into methane gas which will be used as fuel for the generator that produces power and heat for the waste water treatment plant. Bill told me the town will save two thirds of its sludge disposal costs and will generate up to a third of its own power, saving about $260,000 a year. The tanks are expandable, enabling the system, and the savings, to grow. This is exactly the kind of project that Governor Patrick talks about when he directed that Recovery funds put people back to work today on projects that will have impacts long into the future.
But what I thought was really exciting about this project – not that I don’t think generating power from sludge and grease and saving money is exciting – is that previously implementing a digestor system at a relatively small plant was cost prohibitive.
But these guys are demonstrating that the system can now be cost effectively scaled down. This has implications for the rest of the state – and the country. Eian Lynch, a senior engineer from Brown and Caldwell, the engineering firm on the project, told me that most of the existing facilities in the US are smaller ones like Fairhaven’s, and they have high electricity costs and high disposal costs. “They need a solution like this,” Eian said.
Both Bill and Eian have been promoting this smaller system at conferences and through Webinars. Eian’s firm has a proposal in to do a research project for the Water Environmental Research Foundation. “It will help a ton,” he told me about the research project. “It will expose all the barriers that people will face and demonstrate how these systems can be done.”
Bill told me Fairhaven is also putting in solar panels at the town’s Public Works complex and at its West Island satellite wastewater treatment plant which will help the town save about $20,000 a year.
What I really liked about these projects was that they will be employing about 30 people from all the different building trades. Joe Vogel, a vice president with WES Construction, the contractor on the digestor project, told me they are mostly hiring locally, which I’m sure is appreciated in the area.
I have been sitting in a lot of trailers on a lot of building sites across the state over the past few months – from Pittsfield to Lawrence to Framingham to here in Fairhaven and I know that it’s these people at these sites who are getting the job done, putting people back to work and at the same time making long term contributions to the municipal health of towns and cities across the Commonwealth.
I am awed by each and every person I have met at these sites for doing the hard work every day that matters most.