Easthampton gets grant to study possible digester
This digester, completed at Jordan Farm in Rutland in 2011, turns cow manure and food waste into enough to electricity to power the average American home for 134 days, according to AGreen Energy, LLC.
EASTHAMPTON — An anaerobic digester that would turn public waste into electricity could be in the city’s future if a study finds it a workable option.
According to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which awarded a $38,000 grant for a feasibiity study, Easthampton is the first municipality in the western part of the state to consider building an anaerobic digester to dispose of sludge from wastewater and commercial food waste. The center has given grants for feasibility studies to five other municipalities and construction grants to two local dairy farms who have started building.
“This could reduce the cost of sludge disposal and produce electricity,” said Mayor Michael A. Tautznik. “It’s a possibility, but we really need to go through this study.”
The digester, proposed for a site next to the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, would combine food waste from commercial entities with sludge, a by-product left over after the city’s wastewater is treated and discharged into the Connecticut and Manhan rivers. Inside, microorganisms would break down the biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, producing methane, which can then be used to produce electricity. The process also creates a substance that can be used as a fertilizer.
For the last fiscal year, the city spent $167,572 disposing of sludge at a waste facility and $80,711 on the electricity to run the plant. “The electricity generation could offset those costs,” said City Planner Jessica Allan.
The city’s grant application states that a digester there could take in an estimated 3,650 tons of food waste each year. Finding companies or other entities interested in disposing of food in a digester may not be hard, since the state Department of Environmental Protection has said it plans to ban commercial disposal of food waste in landfills starting in 2014.
“The state has been focused on working to incentivize these projects,” said Alicia Barton McDevitt, chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
Allan said residents, including those who live near the plant, will be able to voice their opinions on the study and any proposed project. She said she is interested to see what the study says about the impact on the plant access roads, Gosselin Drive and Loomis Way, if trucks are bringing food waste to a digester there.
If the city moves ahead with a digester, Allan said it would likely partner with a private company, similar to the agreement it has with the solar company that operates the solar array at the landfill. That would mean the company would build the digester at no cost to the city in exchange for a contract agreeing to provide the sludge and buy the energy at a set rate.
Other than the grant, $2,000 of the $40,000 feasibility study will come from fees collected from the city’s water and sewer customers, Tautznik said. The study will be completed by engineering firm Tighe & Bond of Westfield.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.