New $5.2 million mechanism converts filtered wastewater solids into heat, electricity

COURTESY PHOTO: WATER ENVIRONMENT SERVICES - PGE provided partial funding for the WES cogenerator project through its Renewable Development Fund.Clackamas Water Environment Services (WES) announced Wednesday, Aug. 11 the completion of a new "biopower" generator that transforms organic waste into renewable energy, developed in partnership with Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO) and Portland General Electric (PGE).

The $5.2 million "cogeneration system," which will generate both renewable electricity and thermal energy, is part of a $35 million project WES introduced in 2018 to further serve the wastewater needs of over 190,000 residents it serves in North Clackamas, Oregon City and West Linn.

Not only will the new system provide heat for WES's Tri-City Facility in Oregon City, it will also generate nearly half of the energy the plant uses, helping the county meet its Climate Action Plan to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

"This biopower upgrade will help WES practice what we preach when it comes to being good stewards about the environment and ratepayer dollars," said WES Assistant Director Chris Storey.

WES Capital Program Manager Lynne Chicoine, who led the project's engineering team, explained that the system generates renewable energy through "digester tanks" that process solids from wastewater.

"These solids contain nutrients and energy, both resources we can recover. The nutrients are recycled back to the land as a soil amendment for non-food crops in Eastern Oregon," Chicoine said. "The energy created is methane gas; we capture the gas, clean it, and with our new 600-kilowatt engine generator, create power and heat."COURTESY PHOTO: WATER ENVIRONMENT SERVIVCES - A new cogenerator transforms organic waste into renewable energy, developed in partnership with Energy Trust of Oregon.

PGE provided partial funding for the project through its Renewable Development Fund, which awards grants for local clean energy projects. Vice President of Public Affairs Dave Robertson said PGE is proud to be in partnership with WES and other organizations working to create sustainable energy for the county.

"Fighting the effects of climate change is something that everybody's going to have a role in, whether it's PGE, clean water, WES, clean-water services in Washington County, I think there's there's so much synergy and partnership available with everyone," Robertson said.

"It's easy to forget that all of our jobs and frankly, our community's ability to persist and thrive, depend upon the perpetual operation of facilities like this," said Dave Moldal, Program Manager at ETO, which collaborates with utilities, nonprofits and government agencies such as WES to deliver clean energy to Oregonians.

"We welcome a future where all water treatment facilities are viewed as a resource recovery and clean-energy power plants," Moldal added.

WES Services Operator Patrick Mahoney said cogeneration of power is the "future of renewable energy."

"It is one of the most efficient forms of pollution reduction in the world, after you consider the amount of human energy that went into creating this waste and how efficiently it is collected, treated and reused," Mahoney said. "But it takes a huge amount of energy to collect and treat the waste. And that is why it is so valuable and responsible to have cogeneration."

"This ownership of responsibility falls equally on all of us," he added. "But as an operator, I carry this responsibility in my heart and mind with me every day, and we owe it not only to ourselves, but also our communities to be efficient and innovative in our changing world."

Commissioner Martha Schrader, who has served on WES's governing body from 2003-09 and again starting in 2013, thanked the project team on behalf of the county for providing a "vital upgrade to our infrastructure."

"This is really a project that is cause for celebration," Schrader said. "WES customers will benefit, current and future county residents will benefit, businesses will benefit, our shared environment will benefit."COURTESY PHOTO: WATER ENVIRONMENT SERVICES - Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader cuts a ceremonial ribbon at Wednesday's unveiling ceremony, standing next to Commissioner Paul Savas and representatives from WES, ETO and PGE.

Schrader told Pamplin Media Group that WES is "an organization that is innovative on top of everything," and is "one of the best departments" she has ever worked with.

WES also partnered with a group of Clackamas Community College art students, led by painter and educator David Andersen, who collectively painted a vibrant mural on an odor control tank near the new generator.

Andersen said he and his students engaged in conversation with hundreds of community members to brainstorm ideas and images for the mural, which depicts the "ecological diversity of our area" separated into three layers, "water, Earth and sky" and references many images such as native salmon, Pacific lamprey, freshwater clams, birds, microorganisms and others.

"It became clear that the community desired the mural to be beautiful, engaging, based in ecological support of renewable energy and issues, the first is climate change on a global scale," Andersen said, adding that "it was important too that all people and cultures benefited, not just one person or place."

"It's absolutely stunning," Schrader told Pamplin Media Group about the mural. 

To learn more about WES, click here.

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