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A triple play for federal stimulus funds
Manteca wastewater treatment plant operator Benjamin Abulencia, left, and Public Works Director Mark Houghton walk past the structure where methane gas that is now being burned off could one day generate electricity to significantly reduce power costs to run the treatment facility. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Sewer gas, the sun’s rays, and the power of water are being combined in a package deal to land federal stimulus funds being awarded for renewable energy projects.

Manteca is teaming up with the City of Ripon, and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District in a bid to improve the chances of the South County landing money to help offset the cost of three separate energy projects designed to reduce air pollution, increase green power production, and reduce the cost of electricity for municipal and private purposes. The Department of Energy is looking for large projects that combine several renewable components.

Manteca is pursuing a methane gas cogeneration project at the wastewater treatment plant, Ripon a solar project, and SSJID a hydroelectric project.

Manteca’s city leaders Tuesday authorized a letter of commitment to be sent to the federal government. And in the event there is a matching component, staff has identified $427,000 that could be used in the sewer maintenance and operation account. Staff has indicated that other projects could be delayed to make the co-generation component work. In return, the co-generation plant would pay for itself in five years and free up money that would have gone to electrical payments to PG&E to backfill capital improvement projects.

Manteca Public Works Director Mark Houghton is working with a firm that would collect methane gas— a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process — and store it until peak power times and use it to operate a co-generation plant to flatten power loads and reduce the municipal PG&E bill.

Power costs figure heavily into sewer rates that take monthly residential rates up from $33.06 to $51.25 by 2013. That reflects a rate increase over the five years in excess of 50 percent.

The increases are being attributed to skyrocketing energy costs — the plant uses $1.1 million in electricity in a given year — as well as other needs such as:

• building the operating reserve up to the equivalent of four months.

• creating a depreciation sinking fund to replace several thousand feet of aging large pipeline that is nearing the end of its useful life.

• meeting more stringent state standards that are now in place for the collection and treatment of wastewater.