Petaluma Environmental Services Manager and CWEA member Leah Walker describes the natural gas collection and automotive fueling station at the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, part of an overall $15 million expansion expected for completion in 2018.
The project will allow Ellis Creek to keep pace with the massive growth in local breweries, dairy processors and others — companies that generally truck their high-strength waste elsewhere for treatment. Shortening those trips will lower greenhouse gas emissions, as will the eventual switch from most of Petaluma’s diesel-powered garbage trucks to those running on biologically derived natural gas.
“We are very excited to be given the opportunity to beneficially use a previously discarded energy resource to the advantage of our citizens and our environment,” said Dan St. John, Petaluma’s director of public works.
Named as the first runner-up following an initial grant application to the Energy Commission in 2014, Petaluma scooted up a notch to a winning position after the exit of another bidder, Walker said. The Energy Commission announced Petaluma’s award on March 9.
Adding the ability to treat high-strength waste will allow the plant to produce enough methane gas to replace an anticipated 117,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually, Walker said. With fewer truck miles traveled and more fossil fuel remaining underground, the work will allow an annual reduction of around 3,030 tons of greenhouse gases emitted.
“We thought we had this really compelling project, to take our locally produced methane gas from the wastewater of our local industry and turn it into fuel for our garbage trucks,” she said.
The ability to handle that high-strength waste comes as welcome news for the city’s food and beverage manufacturers, companies that are estimated to pump around $1.3 billion into the broader Sonoma County economy while directly employing as many as 1,500 people, according to 2014 study commissioned by the city of Petaluma.