Wastewater-to-energy plant gets state’s OK

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Public Utility Commission has OK’d a New Hampshire company’s proposal to build a facility in Middlebury’s industrial park that will convert wastewater from area businesses into electric power.
With a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) now in hand, PurposeEnergy Inc. can intensify planning and financing for the new facility. The plant could be under construction as soon as this fall and ready to generate electricity by next spring, PurposeEnergy CEO Eric Fitch told the Independent during a recent phone interview.
“It’s great; I was happy with the process,” Fitch said. “It took us a while to put all the research and work together and document everything that was necessary, but we’re excited to get the CPG.”
Once completed, the Middlebury Resource Recovery Center will feature a 1,014 kW food-waste-to-energy operation on 1 acre of land at 183 Industrial Ave.  The recovery center might also receive “de-packaged food and beverage waste from Casella Waste Management Inc.’s facility in Williston,” according to its permit.
An underground force main of roughly a mile in length will deliver waste directly to the center, according to PurposeEnergy’s CPG. That conduit will be located within the rights of way of Industrial Avenue, Mainelli Road and Exchange Street. The force main is expected to substantially reduce the need for tanker trucks to deliver waste to the facility, according to the CPG.
Once the food and beverage waste arrives at facility, it will be pumped into a methane digester, which will convert it to biogas that will be used to produce renewable electricity using an on-site biogas-fueled electrical generator. The project will be patched into the state’s electricity grid via Green Mountain Power.
The Middlebury Planning Commission and Addison County Regional Planning Commission have both reviewed and endorsed the PurposeEnergy project.
The project will produce emissions, but will operate “in compliance with applicable air pollution control regulations,” according to the CPG. The facility is estimated to reduce greenhouse gases by approximately 2,000 tons per year, according to the PurposeEnergy application. It would do this by displacing electricity produced by other methods, such as burning fossil fuels.
Fitch and his colleagues have successfully argued the project will benefit Middlebury’s wastewater treatment facility by pretreating high-strength organic waste and thereby reducing the total pounds per day of biological oxygen demand, suspended solids and phosphorus currently sent directly to the treatment plant. The Middlebury selectboard last October agreed to reduce the recovery center’s sewer connection fee, in recognition of the pre-treatment service the facility will provide.
“This reduced load will increase capacity at the wastewater treatment facility for future residences and businesses in Middlebury,” the CPG reads.
Solids generated by the digester will be dewatered and delivered to a local composter or will be land-applied by local agricultural operations after approval by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
Fitch said he’s trying to resolve one last challenge facing the project: He has yet to hammer out an easement agreement with one of the property owners along the preferred route of the one-mile force main. He said the force main will cost more and take longer to build if it has to be diverted.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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