Englewood council OKs biogas plan

City manager says project will not be factor in rate increase

Posted 8/30/18

After nearly two years, the long-discussed plan to repurpose a byproduct gas from Englewood and Littleton's wastewater-treatment plant to reduce pollution and potentially make millions in profit …

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Englewood council OKs biogas plan

City manager says project will not be factor in rate increase

Posted

After nearly two years, the long-discussed plan to repurpose a byproduct gas from Englewood and Littleton's wastewater-treatment plant to reduce pollution and potentially make millions in profit cleared its final hurdles at Englewood City Council.

Englewood City Councilmembers Laurett Barrentine and Rita Russell raised the fear that utility rates would increase due to spending on the project at the Aug. 20 city council meeting. Any rate increase would not be caused by the biogas plan, City Manager Eric Keck said.

Still, not every Englewood councilmember was on board with some uncertainties in the plan.

Kyle Schlachter, a Littleton city councilmember, said the project is a positive opportunity for both cities.
 
"It helps reduce our waste by not flaring gas, it is a benefit to the environment that we’re not burning directly into the atmosphere — and then we have a potential revenue stream coming from it," Schlachter said.

Here are the ins and outs of how it would work.

Renewable resource

At the core of the plan is the South Platte Water Renewal Partners plant — formerly the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant — which purifies water that gets flushed down toilets and drains from showers, sinks, washing machines and so on.

The treatment produces the byproduct called biogas, some of which is burned for heating within the wastewater-plant system. The rest gets “flared” in a waste-gas burner — the plan would reduce that pollution rate by nearly 6,900 metric tons of gas, the equivalent of taking 15,000 cars off the road every year, city staff said.

A factor in the plan's ability to bring in profit is a federal program that allows for selling renewable energy credits, called RINs, or “renewable identification numbers.” RINs are assigned to batches of renewable fuel that are sold in the energy market.

Councilmembers in Englewood have raised concern of the risk that the federal government might change policy on RINs. The Renewable Fuel Standard, a program that requires refineries to blend ethanol and other biofuels into the nation's fuel supply or buy credits from those who make such renewable fuels, began under President George W. Bush. It currently extends until 2022.

Keck said that “2022 is the date that the U.S. Department of Energy, the (Environmental Protection Agency) and the (wastewater plant) RIN broker are all indicating that the RINs will be around through at a minimum.”

Project timeline

The plan could make about $12 million in profit to be split by both cities over 10 years, according to Keck.

Construction and development of the project would likely end around fall 2019, according to city staff. The EPA would need to evaluate the biogas project, though, which would take another five months, staff added. Revenue from the project would begin around February 2020.

Councilmember Dave Cuesta was uneasy about the timeline and the possibility it could take longer if the EPA finds issues. Blair Corning, presenting for city staff at the meeting, said it's unlikely an issue would come up that pushes the date further out.

Rates in spotlight

Russell expressed worry that residents would get a utility-rate increase due to spending on the plan, a concern Barrentine echoed.

If a rate increase is put forward related to wastewater, it will be not be due to the biogas project, Keck said.

Discharge-permit requirements from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are what will drive the need for rate increases over the next several years, Keck added. The requirement to remove more nitrogen and phosphorous will require more spending, and maintenance needs at the plant are also what may cause any future rate increase, Keck said.

Littleton's administrative staff isn't expecting any rate increase due to the biogas plan, Schlachter said. Littleton's council approved the plan earlier this year.

The components of the biogas plan passed Englewood's council over the “no” votes of Russell, Barrentine and Cuesta.

Flood spending

During public comment at the Aug. 20 meeting, resident Coween Dickerson said Englewood shouldn't spend on biogas until it addresses problems with its storm drainage, a concern raised in the wake of the July 24 flood that displaced several and took one woman's life.

But money from specific funds in the budget, like the wastewater fund, cannot be transferred to other funds like the stormwater fund under budget rules, Keck said.

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