City gets biogas grant

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city could soon be running its wastewater treatment plant with biogas generated from wastes from local cheese makers – and even generating excess electricity.

The City Council Tuesday voted to accept a $285,000 grant from Focus on Energy to help finance a $1.13 million biogas generation system at the plant on County PP.

“We’re very confident this procedure will work,” Public Works Director William Immich told the council.

“There are risks but we believe the project is still viable, even with the risks,” City Administrator Brian Yerges added. “We believe the risks will all be mitigated.”

He identified the risks as the project cost, ensuring enough waste product to operate the biogas system, and maintenance costs for the system.

Even with all that, Yerges said, it is expected the biogas generation system will provide a 14 to 20 percent annual payback over installation, operation and maintenance costs.

“I think the key to this project is that we do not have to go out and borrow funds,” to finance it, Mayor Donald Pohlman added.

The city will also receive a $25,000 grant from WPPI toward the project. Plymouth Utilities had already set aside roughly $300,000 for needed work on the digester that will be part of the biogas system and the city can cover the rest of the cost using unspent funds from a 2007 bond issue for the utilities, Yerges said.

Alderperson Jackie Jarvis, chair of the Public Works and Utility Committee that recommended the project be approved, said generation of electricity in excess of what is needed to run the treatment plant could begin in five or six years. Running the plant on electricity generated by the system would save about $80,000 a year, she added.

The two local companies that manufacture cheese – Sartori and American Dairy Products – would be able to supply waste from cheesemaking and grease that would be used to generate the biogas, according to Jarvis.

“The cheese companies in the area are shipping their waste west to Sheboygan, and shipping it here to Plymouth could help them become more profitable,” by reducing shipping costs, Jarvis noted.

Both companies have expressed interest in providing waste for the biogas generator, although neither has made a firm commitment yet, Yerges said.

“These different companies have sustainability goals they would like to meet and this helps them do that,” Yerges continued. “I do believe this is a real nice public-private partnership that benefits both parties.”

Immich admitted that the process will create more sludge than the plant currently produces. But Yerges noted that the city has land available for sledge disposal on the wastewater treatment plant property, so there should be little or no additional cost for sludge disposal.

Immich said city officials had viewed similar systems in Sheboygan, Janesville and Stevens Point, all of which are working well.

He credited Plymouth Utilities Wastewater Superintendent Michael Penkwitz for putting the proposal together that won the grant from Focus on Energy.

The council agreed to write off the $363,915.20 balance due on a revolving loan to Darrow Investments LLC.

Attorney Mel Blanke, reporting for the Revolving Loan Committee, explained that the properties involved in the loan have been foreclosed on and there were not enough proceeds to pay what was due to the city, which had a secondary lien on the property.

“Those of us on the committee always took the approach to take on riskier loans that the bank would do and this is one that wasn’t successful,” Blanke said.

He did add that the building which the loan helped finance, a combination gas station/convenience store/restaurant on Eastern Avenue, is still in business (under different ownership) and is still on the tax roll.

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