Biogas

On Earth Day, Think About How a Water Utility Can Help Our Planet

Philadelphia Water works to protect our rivers and planet in a number of ways. Clockwise from top left: Solar panels at our Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant; a Green City, Clean Waters tree trench in East Falls; part of our Biogas Cogeneration system at the Northeast WPCP; Philadelphia Water volunteers at a March 2016 Bartram’s Garden cleanup that removed 12,927 pounds of trash from the Schuylkill River’s banks.
Philadelphia Water works to protect our rivers and planet in a number of ways. Clockwise from top left: Solar panels at our Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant; a Green City, Clean Waters tree trench in East Falls; part of our Biogas Cogeneration system; Philadelphia Water volunteers at a March 2016 Bartram’s Garden cleanup that removed 12,927 pounds of trash from the Schuylkill River’s banks.

While the Philadelphia Water Department’s core mission is to provide our 1.5 million customers with constant access to safe, clean drinking water, a big part of doing that job involves protecting and improving our local rivers and creeks.

After all, providing top quality drinking water is a lot easier when you take care of your source water.

That simple fact makes Philadelphia Water, in many ways, an environmental institution.

Philadelphia Water Makes ASCE's 'Game Changer' List

Game Changer: Our Biogas Cogeneration facility at the Northeast WPCP is changing the way people think about wastewater management. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Game Changer: Our Biogas Cogeneration facility at the Northeast WPCP in Port Richmond is changing the way people think about wastewater management. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

The American Society of Civil Engineers rolled out a cool new campaign last week to highlight infrastructure projects around the country that they see as “game changers”—investments that have the potential to change the way we live for the better.

Making their list of innovative infrastructure was our very own Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant, a high-tech facility that treats an average of 188.12 million gallons of wastewater per day.

Located in the city’s Port Richmond neighborhood, the 150-acre Northeast WPCP facility is our biggest and oldest wastewater treatment plant. So why is ASME calling it a “game changer”?

The Northeast WPCP is home to our Biogas Cogeneration facility, a modern marvel that essentially turns a harmful human waste byproduct—methane gas— into enough energy to power about 85 percent of the plant’s operations.

In cruder terms: it’s power from poop.

This infrastructure investment has a number of benefits, not least of which is a reduced operating cost, which helps to keep rates low for our customers. Considering energy consumption is by far one of the biggest expenses in water treatment, creating that much energy for our biggest wastewater plant is a big deal.

From a more altruistic perspective, the Biogas Cogeneration facility also acts as a double-edge sword in fighting climate change; we’re keeping a powerful greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing the need for fossil fuel-sourced electricity.
That makes the facility a win-win-win scenario.

The ASCE also lauds our biosolids recycling program and efforts to replace aging pipes and water mains:

"… they have increased investment in water pipes by 25 percent in their latest capital improvement program. However the Department’s Strategic Energy Plan also looks to better manage future expenses – it includes a facility that will extract energy from material typically thought of as waste. … Their ultimate goal for all of the wastewater treatment plants in the City is to be net zero energy consumption."

You can check out the full story and other innovation success stories at ASCEGameChangers.org.

Learn more about our sustainability initiatives here and get an overview of how the Biogas facility works here.

Commissioner Neukrug Touts Leadership at 'Value of Water' Forum

The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum.
The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum. Photo Credit: Brian Rademaekers

The tragic Amtrak crash that claimed eight lives and left hundreds injured in Port Richmond last week was an inescapable topic for panelists speaking at the May 14 Value of Water Coalition forum at WHYY's studios. Organized as a National Infrastructure Week event, What’s the Value of Water? The Pennsylvania Story featured five speakers, including Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug.

Like others at the forum, Neukrug noted how the "terrible" Amtrak tragedy sparked an intense and emotional debate about the importance of infrastructure investments.

"It’s fascinating to watch this discussion that’s happening with infrastructure now," Neukrug told the audience, noting the tone in Washington D.C. became "very partisan, very quickly."  But, Neukrug said, there are valuable observations to be made regarding how people think about infrastructure funding. 

“If you really want to create change in the city, or to create change in infrastructure in America, there are only two ways to do it … one is crisis, and the other one is leadership. What’s fascinating is that, if you watch this, crisis ain’t working,” said Neukrug. “Crisis happens. You can look at California today and realize that they’re just about out of water. And, yes, there are some policy shifts, and they are trying to figure out how to conserve water at the tap … but no big innovative change has come out of it. So, that takes the two ways of creating change and kind of shoves crisis to the side and leaves us with leadership.”

Pointing to the tagline in the new Philadelphia Water logo – “Est. 1801” – Neukrug detailed the city’s long history as a leader in innovative water management, starting with the creation of Fairmount Park as a means of protecting drinking water sources and the development of the Fairmount Water Works to deliver that drinking water.

As for more recent examples of leadership, Neukrug pointed to Philadelphia Water’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan, a nationally recognized model that uses Green Stormwater Infrastructure to achieve federal stormwater requirements while saving taxpayer money and contributing to the larger goal of making Philadelphia the greenest city in the country.

He also pointed to the department’s Biogas Cogeneration Facility at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant, which turns human waste into energy needed to run treatment plants. Features like that and the sewage geothermal installation and solar photovoltaic system at the Southeast WPCP are important in part because they reduce air pollution, but also because every dollar not spent on energy is a dollar that Philadelphia Water can spend on improving infrastructure.

Neukrug said the ultimate goal isn’t just to get treatment plants to a “net zero” status where they are using no outside energy, but to create “net positive” facilities that can actually produce power for use elsewhere. That forward thinking recently saw the city awarded with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Leadership Award

“We have really changed the game in Philadelphia,” Neukrug told the panel.

For more on Commissioner Neukrug’s comments during the forum, check out the video clips below.

Commissioner Neukrug's Opening Remarks:

Commissioner Neukrug on Biogas and Net Zero Energy Goals: 

Other panelists at the forum were: Beverly Coleman, Assistant Vice President for Community Relations and Economic Development, Temple University; Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program; Aldie Warnock, Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and Public Policy, American Water and Steven Wray, Executive Director, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

Want more? Read Value of Water Coalition’s latest report, The New Wave of Innovation.  

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