AYER -- A proposed Department of Public Works study that weighs the options of building a waste-management plant to convert organic waste into methane gas went public Thursday night, with an array of questions posed by the public.
Mark Wetzel, DPW superintendent, and Ben Mosher, principal of CDM Smith, an engineering and construction firm, explained their organics-to-energy feasibility study by explaining the pros and cons.
The town is struggling with high sludge disposal costs of about $200,000 annually at the wastewater treatment plant and $150,000 a year in energy costs. At the same time, the state is asserting pressure on communities to separate organic waste from solid waste.
Wetzel and Mosher said the study would reduce costs significantly if the town agreed to build a plant that would turn the organic waste, from the plant as well as from food and other industries nearby, into methane gas. Since the wastewater treatment plant is the largest waste disposal area in town, it would make the most sense to build the facility there.
The methane gas produced could be used by the town, or could be sold, generating revenue. Another option of leasing the land to a private company was also raised as residents weighed the options posed by the study.
The proposed plant could serve not only Ayer but the entire area, the men said. They explained that food industries have a large amount of organic waste they need to get rid of, and the plant would benefit.
"You can get up to four times the gas (and energy) out of food waste that you do from biosolids or manure," Mosher said.
The grant for the study is $40,000, while the study itself costs $45,000. "The town is paying $5,000 of the feasibility study cost, out of our wastewater engineering budget," Wetzel said. Additional funding would be needed if the town were to decide to build the facility, after the study has been done. "If we conclude that this is a feasible project, then we would look at funding options. MassCEC has grants (currently) up to $400,000," Wetzel added.
Before opening the room to questions, Wetzel tossed out a few questions he thought people might like the answers to.
"Is it smelly?"
"Is it noisy," and "How much energy would this plant generate?" he asked.
He followed with, "The methane gas smells, but you're burning it, so there's not much of a smell."
"The noise is the generator, but the facility is soundproof."
"The plant would generate 180 to 1,800 kilowatts of energy on top of what the facility will use to run."
Heads nodded and hands began to raise for additional questions.
"What are the benefits of burning methane?" asked Carolyn McCreary, chairman of the Green Community Committee.
"By burning methane, you're burning it back to carbon dioxide, whereas, if it stays as methane, it's much worse for the environment," Mosher said, "and the state has very tight emissions controls."
"Compare and contrast burning methane gas with traditional fossil fuels. Does it burn clean?" asked Jane Morriss.
"The methane from here is completely renewable, I don't think there is a big difference. It burns pretty clean," Mosher said.
"It's about 60 percent methane. It's different than burning oil or coal," added Wetzel.
"I think this is a great project. It's a win-win. It's doing something good by producing energy from our waste, and it's saving our money in trucking fees. I just hope that we can get it created," McCreary said.
"We're essentially living in a big terrarium and anything we can do to covert our waste into something we need is great," said Frank Maxant.
Wetzel plans to organize more public forums on the progress of the study and he hopes to have the best options for building the facility by late fall.
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