Water plant to get power from waste

LAWRENCEVILLE -- No joke: Gwinnett's water resources department has begun self-generating a large portion of its energy, thanks to a gas most commonly known as a product of flatulence.

A new gas-to-energy facility at the F.Wayne Hill Water Resources plant in Buford can produce up to 40 percent of the plant's energy needs using only methane gas, a byproduct of the facility's sewage treatment process, officials said.

During the treatment process, bacteria in egg-shaped digesters turn wastewater solids into methane gas at temperatures near 100 degrees, reducing the waste that goes to landfills. Previously burned off as waste, the methane gas produced during this reaction is now used to power the plant and provide the heat needed to fuel the digesters that produced it in the first place, officials said.

"We're making good use of a renewable, previously wasted resource to help cut operating costs and keep water rates low for Gwinnett residents," Director of Water Resources Lynn Smarr said.

The department used $5 million in federal stimulus funds, a $3.5 million federal grant and $500,000 from local water and sewer funds to build the facility.

A companion facility for receiving fats, oils and grease from restaurants and other operations will also be completed next fall using the funds. That waste will "go into the digesters to increase methane production while helping reduce clogs in county sewers," water resources officials said.

The project, known as POWER (Processing Organic Waste for Energy Recovery), won an environmental sustainability award from the Atlanta Regional Commission earlier this year.

Gwinnett County must repay $2 million over the next 20 years at 2 percent interest.