The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) is partnering with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) Bioengineering Department’s Partners in Pollution Prevention Program (P3) to provide energy assessments at small community wastewater treatment plants. These projects typically involve communities with populations less than 5,000.
Nebraska’s small communities, like those in most states, face a myriad of challenges in dealing with their environmental infrastructure. Specific challenges include declining tax bases and aging physical equipment. It is estimated that the energy costs for moving and treating wastewater comprise 20% to as much as 60% of a community’s energy budget. The program identifies steps that can reduce these costs as well as identifying improved operational procedures and improving the treatment of wastewater.
The UNL P3 effort places Junior or Senior Engineering or Environmental Science students with businesses or municipalities over the summer months with the primary objective of reducing the environmental footprint of the business or municipality. Additionally, UNL has devoted significant resources to reassessing the student’s efforts two to four years after the intern’s project. These reassessments have been particularly beneficial in quantifying the benefits of the program. The reassessments have found that approximately 55% of the recommendations made by the interns have been adopted by the businesses and municipalities.
The wastewater treatment plant energy conservation effort includes a partnership with UNL, NDEQ, the Nebraska Public Power District (provides energy conservation expertise), and the Nebraska League of Municipalities (provides advice on the selection of communities and in general working with small communities). EPA Region VII has also provided assistance, and the overall effort is modeled after an effort initiated by EPA Region VII and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Results to Date:
As of this past summer, 11 communities had participated in the program. It is estimated that the communities can save, conservatively, $2,800 per year, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 43 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. These savings can represent a significant fraction of a small community’s energy budget.
Additionally, the interns have found that many projects, such as updating lighting systems and installing variable frequency drive motors, have payback periods of less than 18 months.
The interns have identified a wide variety of potential projects, many of which involve no-cost operational changes. For example, an intern found that a simple change in the controls of an exhaust fan saved the community $200 per year in energy costs. In many instances, the interns have made recommendations that the wastewater treatment plant operators had previously suggested; hearing supporting recommendations from the interns has often spurred the community to action and improvements.
The interns have each developed a one-page summary of their recommendations, which can be found at http://deq.ne.gov/publica.nsf/pages/15-009.