Water Protection Facility

Machines like this biosolids dryer at the St. Joseph Water Protection Facility use heat and are currently partially supplied by natural gas. An energy efficiency project could see methane produced at the plant recycled to heat systems, possibly saving costs.

A city project to create cost-saving, energy efficient systems across St. Joseph soon will focus on the Water Protection Facility.

The Schneider Electric energy savings project finished its first phase earlier this year and already is seeing more savings than what was anticipated. That phase focused on energy savings at civic facilities such as City Hall, the Missouri Theater and Bode Ice Arena.

This week, the City Council saw a presentation by Schneider Electric that outlined the plan for Phase II, which will focus on the systems designed to clean outgoing sewer water.

Mayor Bill McMurray was impressed with the presentation and hopes that cost savings at the plant can lead to lower sewer rates.

“I think Schneider’s presentation was fairly hopeful,” McMurray said. “What they plan to do is make this Water Protection Facility more efficient and we’re going to realize some savings that will translate to either stability or lower rates. To me, that was very important.”

Phase II will look at HVAC systems, plumbing and lighting, like Phase I, but also will focus on replacing wasteful equipment and recycling gas.

The process of breaking down and filtering out waste from the water that goes to the plant results in a build up of methane gas. That gas is partially used as a fuel for heating other processes at the plant, but much of it is vented out into the environment.

The project will aim to use all of that gas productively, doing away with the need for natural gas and keeping the methane from being released into the air.

Director of Public Works Andy Clements said methane is worse for the ozone layer than carbon dioxide, and venting less is a good thing.

“It’s way more destructive to the ozone layer, by burning that instead of venting it, it’s a really good thing on the environment,” he said.

Clements said he does expect there to be lowered rates due to the savings. He said capital projects, such as the replacement of aging blowers and fixes to digesters, will be paid off using the saved funds, which will avoid additional debt in the sewer division.

“The idea is to use the energy savings to pay it off instead of having to bond these things traditionally and handle those as maintenance projects down the road,” Clements said. “So, it’s a great way to kind of pay yourself to do the right thing.”

He said climate change is here, and it is time to be responsible both environmentally and financially.

Schneider guarantees savings from the project and will pay if the maximum amount quoted isn’t reached. Phase I cost the city around $5 million, but is predicted to save over $ 6 million in the next 15 years.

The potential savings from Phase II have not yet been determined, but an investment grade audit could begin next month if approved by the council. That audit will look into the cost of each project, savings to be generated from that project and guaranteed amounts over 15 years.

A timeline was shown to the council at Thursday’s work session, which included design engineering beginning early next year and construction beginning in October of 2021.

A state revolving fund may be applied for in March, which could lead to a grant. That fund would be paid off with the savings from the project.

Brendan Welch can be reached at brendan.welch@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWelch.