Montana Flathead Electric Cooperative Helps Modernize Wastewater Treatment Plant

Roxanna Chomas, operator of the Whitefish Wastewater Treatment Plant, said the city’s new sewage treatment plant is one of four operating in the United States. (Photo credit: Charlyn Fairweather/Flathead EC)

When the city of Whitefish, Montana needed a major upgrade to its wastewater treatment plant, it turned to Flathead Electric Cooperative for ideas. The result is a more reliable, modern facility that uses less electricity and cuts electricity costs by about $34,000 a year while accommodating a growing population.

“Bring all the school children in the county,” said power plant operator Roxana Chomas. “You have to know what happens when you flush the toilet,” she said.

Chomas and other city officials have worked closely with Flathead EC’s energy services supervisor, Don Newton, for more than four years to help the contractor convert the 50-year-old lagoon system into an anaerobic digester and digital controller. replaced.

The new system is expected to meet the needs of expanding communities through mid-century while eliminating many known or potential problems common to the more than 16,000 sewage treatment plants operating in the United States.

A series of reactor tanks use digital technology, particulate micro-organisms and air circulation to decompose sewage. (Photo credit: Charlyn Fairweather/Flathead EC)

“It’s a very quick process, taking raw sewage and pumping out that clear water,” Chomas told reporters recently. “It’s very fast, very instant. And it’s all managed by the instrumentation. There’s no smell at all. No smell from the lagoon.”

The new plant uses ultraviolet light and particulate microbes that pass through a series of batch tanks to filter and break down solids. It replaces three lagoons that require constant mechanical agitation with a much more efficient process for draining and removing sludge.

Newton, who frequently works with cooperative institutions, industrial and commercial account holders, looked into wastewater treatment and sought the expertise of cooperative wholesale power providers.

Bonneville Power Administration provides financial incentives in the form of power cost rebates for energy efficiency improvements that reduce the overall load on the system. Bonneville’s Energy Smart Industrial Program has realized energy savings of approximately $400 million across his eight state operating regions over the past 10 years.

Treated wastewater is treated with infrared light supplied by energy efficient LED bulbs before being discharged into the tailrace. (Photo credit: Charlyn Fairweather/Flathead EC)

“Clean water is what everyone wants, and we want water to process energy efficiently, so it consumes less power,” Newton said. If we buy less, we can get it at a lower cost and pass it on to the co-op members.”

Sewage treatment is an essential service, but location and environmental impact remain major concerns. This is especially true in areas known for water recreation such as boating, fishing and paddleboarding, which is driving the growth of tourism and the development of vacation real estate. Over the past five years, the cooperative has added about 10,000 new accounts and currently serves about 80,000 meters.

“Flathead Lake is one of the cleanest lakes in the country, so maintaining water quality is a top priority,” Newton said, adding that the system can shift power-intensive processes to off-peak times when rates are lower. added. “Neighbors appreciate the reduced noise and almost no odor.”

The $24 million project is one of four plants in the United States currently using the technology and is expected to save about 570 kilowatt-hours of electricity use annually at current levels. His two 40 hp pumps running 24/7 consume far less power than the mechanical system they replaced and have excess capacity for future growth.

Community interest in the project has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only does it meet or exceed current federal and state environmental standards, it has also led to talks of repurposing part of the wastewater treatment plant’s land for a new solar array.

“Whitefish will likely not need a new sewage treatment plant for at least 40 years, so adding solar power to the facility could offset some of the power demand from the cooperative.” said Newton. “It is a great opportunity to replace one of the existing lagoons with a solar installation.”

Derrill Holly is a Staff Writer for NRECA.

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