TOWANDA - A $575,000 project to make the Towanda and Wysox municipal authorities' sewer system more energy efficient is under way.

Two components of the federally-funded project are in various stages of completion, while the third, which involves installing an array of solar energy panels to help run a main sewage pump station in Wysox Township, was recently bid out, said Tom Fairchild Jr., manager of the Towanda Municipal Authority.

The project was started after the Towanda and Wysox municipal authorities were awarded a $413,760 federally-funded grant in November 2009 to help pay for the project.

The first component of the project to get under way was the replacement of an aeration system at the Towanda Municipal Authority's sewage treatment plant in Towanda, Fairchild said.

The new aeration system includes two new air blowers, which provide air to the bacteria that digest and break down the sewage that is treated at the plant, said Fairchild and Kevin Gombotz, a consultant hired by the Towanda and Wysox municipal authorities to work on the project.

The blowers in the old aeration system provided air at a constant rate at all times, while the speed at which the new blowers operate can be varied, Gombotz said.

For example, when the flow of sewage into the plant decreases at night, the blowers will operate at a reduced speed, which will reduce the amount of electricity they use, Gombotz said.

"I think, for the blowers, there will be about a 30 percent reduction in the electricity costs," said Gombotz, who is the manager of commercial energy operations at Envinity Inc. in State College, Pa.

On Nov. 14, a bid opening was conducted for the second component of the project, which involves installing a system that can extract heat from the waste water that flows into the plant, which will be used to heat the main control building at the plant, Fairchild said.

Because the pipes that carry the waste water to the plant are located six to 10 feet below the surface of the ground, the temperature of the waste water that arrives at the plant will stay stable throughout the year, which will allow the heating system to operate efficiently, Gombotz said.

The temperature of the waste water "will likely vary between 50 and 60 degrees" year round, he said.

A system that includes three heat pumps and three compressors will draw heat from the incoming waste water - which will reduce the waste water's temperature by 3 degrees - and use it to raise the temperature of water in an enclosed heating loop in the building to 110 degrees, which will heat the building, he said.

The main control building includes a lab and employees' offices, and has two underground floors, Fairchild said.

The heat extraction system is expected to reduce the heating bills of the control building to one-third of what they used to be, Gombotz said.

The energy-efficiency project will also take advantage of the stable temperature of the incoming waste water to help meet the air conditioning needs at the plant, he said.

The other main building at the plant, which was constructed a couple of years ago, houses the plant's new autothermal thermophilic aerobic digester (ATAD), which generates enough heat to meet most of that building's heating needs, Gombotz said.

The heat extraction system is being installed by Schoonover Plumbing & Heating of Canton at a cost of $103,990.

Two companies submitted bids for the heat extraction component of the project, and Schoonover submitted the low bid.

Solar panels

A ground-mounted array of 48 solar energy panels will be installed to provide 25 percent of the electricity needed to run the pump station, which is located along U.S. Route 6, Gombotz said.

The Wysox Municipal Authority will be able to sell excess electricity generated by panels back to the electric grid, he said.

A total of eight to 10 contractors attended a pre-bid conference last week for the solar-energy component of the project, according to Fairchild and Towanda Municipal Authority Operating Superintendent Fred Johnson.

Bids will be opened for the solar energy component on Jan. 7.

The energy efficiency project also included a study aimed at determining whether wind turbines could be used to help run the Towanda Municipal Authority's two municipal water wells in North Towanda Township.

"The site was determined not to be viable" for wind turbines, Fairchild said.

One problem is that the wells are sheltered to an extent from the wind, since they are in a valley, he said.

And, he said, "there are at least two major utility lines that we'd have to work around" at the site, as well as some large trees, he said.

There are also "some zoning issues" with locating wind turbines at the site, he said.

The federally-funded grant was provided through the Pennsylvania "Conservation Works!" Program, which was set up to disperse funds appropriated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The project, which is expected to pay for itself over time, is also being funded by the Towanda and Wysox municipal authorities, Fairchild said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or e-mail: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.