City to replace energy hungry light fixtures at treatment plant with efficient LEDs

Members of the Missoula City Council joined various department heads on a tour of the wasterwater treatment facility last year to better understand the novel ways its putting waste to secondary uses while reducing its energy consumption. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

An effort to replace the light fixtures at the city’s wastewater treatment plant will shave nearly $9,000 a year of the facility’s electric bill and move Missoula that much closer to its energy conservation goals.

Members of the City Council approved the $40,000 contract last week and awarded the task to The Third Element, a Montana company that helps commercial and industrial clients save energy through technology.

“The utilities are trying to advance some energy savings projects separate from the larger citywide effort,” said Ross Mollenhauer, the city’s utility project manager. “We’re reducing our energy footprint as much as we can, in line with the city’s clean electricity initiative.”

Citing a moral imperative and public demand, the city and county in April adopted a resolution to achieve 100 percent clean electricity across the urban area by 2030.

A recent study of Missoula’s energy use found that roughly 60 percent is now powered by clean, renewable sources. But 40 percent is still powered by fossil fuels, or roughly 300 megawatt hours, according to Climate Smart Missoula.

The wastewater treatment plant represents the city’s largest consumer of electricity, though small changes over the years have helped shave its consumption. Replacing the light fixtures with efficient LED lights will save roughly $8,800.

“The largest electrical loads for the city is the water treatment plant, and pumping the water up the hills through the water system,” Mollenhauer said. “Anything we can do to reduce those demands, we’re looking at.”

With energy savings in mind, the city’s utilities will also explore other efficiencies, including a switch to solar and moving toward more efficient electrical pumps. The plant has already undergone a number of energy-minded upgrades in recent years.

Last October, members of the council toured the facility to observe the transformation. The plant now diverts nutrient rich water toward a large plot of hybrid poplar trees. Biosolids and green waste are recycled at an joining composting facility.

The plant also captures biogass to generate 25 percent of its own electricity, though Mollenhauer said more can be done by reducing the facility’s overall energy needs.

“We’re reviewing the electrical efficiencies of the pumps where appropriate, and we’re looking at maybe a solar project,” he said.

“If demand is up and down and we can shave off that lowest part through solar, that’s something we’d be open to considering. Right now, we’re collecting the data to see where it makes sense.”

The $40,000 contract with The Third Element will pay for itself in roughly six years, according to city officials. Of that cost, roughly $12,000 stems from labor while $28,000 represents the cost of the new fixtures.

Missoula Water has undergone similar changes.

“The water building, when they (the city) bought it, they did the same thing,” Mollenhauer said. “There’s other things we’re looking at, that we’re considering.”