Grant will fund energy from food waste project

By Douglas Moser dmoser@eagletribune.com | Eagle Tribune

A nascent local project to generate electricity from food waste got a $4.4 million boost from the state Monday.

The state Executive office of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced on Monday $18.4 million in grants to 13 communities or regional organizations for clean energy technology that would be used to prevent critical infrastructure from becoming disabled during a power failure.

The Greater Lawrence Sanitary District, which provides waste water treatment for Lawrence, Andover, Methuen, North Andover, Salem, N.H., and a portion of Dracut, will receive $4.389 million for part of a three-phase construction project estimated at $25 million to accept so-called source separated organics, meaning compostable organic material like food, and convert it into electricity and heat for its main plant and electricity for its pump station.

Cheri Cousens, executive director of the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District, said the plant will not accept organic material from the public, but rather will use an outside company that gathers food waste from supermarkets and food manufacturers, processes it for them, and delivers it to the plant.

"The whole rationale is to take what would normally go into the trash and make energy out of it," she said.

The project is an expansion in that it will add a fourth digester unit. But the three current digesters produce biogas, which basically is methane, that is used for heat. The new fourth digester will produce enough methane to generate electricity, with the goal of eventually covering all the plant's power needs.

The state grant would cover parts of the project that specifically go toward the plant's ability to generate its own electricity, including a blending tank, the anaerobic digester, electrical feeds to the pump station and biogas metering and monitoring.

"These grants will assist municipalities across the commonwealth in using innovative clean energy technologies to prevent disruption to critical facilities and services during times of emergency," Mark Sylvia, undersecretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs," said in a statement.

Cousens said she plans to have the first in-depth discussion of the financial details of the project with her board of commissioners, comprised of representatives from each community, Tuesday.

Currently the district spends $2.5 million a year on electricity and expects the cost to top $3 million per year in the future, she said.

The money was distributed through the Resiliency Initiative, a $40 million program available to cities and towns that identify facilities in their communities where the loss of electrical service would result in the disruption of a critical public safety or life sustaining function, including emergency services, shelters, food and fuel supply and communications infrastructure. Municipalities can use the funding to implement clean energy technologies to keep their energy systems operable.

Under the program, administered by the state Department of Energy Resources, cities and towns applied for either technical assistance or direct project implementation. Projects eligible for funding include clean energy generation, energy storage, energy management systems, islanding technologies and microgrids.

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