Sunday, May 6, 2018

St. Pete’s Biogas disaster

City Council seemed to lurch between being surprised and being miffed that the highly touted “clean energy” “save the environment” project was in trouble

 St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog
City Council seems surprised as the City’s Biogas and Solids project costs mushroom from $64 million to currently $93 million and projected savings head toward $0. You can get some detail from John Romano Tampa Bay Times Columnist, Romano: Is it still environmentally conscious if it’s based on a sham?
I decided to drop by the City Council meeting Thursday (May 3, 2018) and catch the “Sewer Report."

Following some preliminaries, the often energetic but seldom entertaining Claude Tankersly, Public Works Administrator, lead City Council through a meticulous series of questions and answers seemingly to get the factual answers into the record before a discussion broke out.

If you would like to see E-5, the Sewer Report for yourself click here: Sewer Report scroll down to item 5 Sewer Report C. Tankersley and move forward a couple of minutes for the report.

Here is a good synopsis from Tampa Bay Times Caitlin Johnston Staff Writer, St. Petersburg City Council learns nothing solid about biosolids.
City Council seemed to lurch between being surprised and being miffed that the highly touted “clean energy” “save the environment” project was in trouble and unlikely to pan out as promised.
What I find interesting is they are surprised at all.
If you go back in history and check not only in St. Pete but in most jurisdictions these pie in the sky altruistic projects designed to make or save money and rescue humanity from itself almost never yield the promised results.
Tankersley and his consultants alluded to assumptions that are no longer true, estimates that were overly generous and a failure to realize that once you actually produce bio gas(methane) you have to do something with it.
All of this drama is casting great doubt on the ability to raise money from the sale of the product.
Then there are those “energy credits” they toss around that may or may not apply, may or may not be available and for the record, may or may not have a market. Think Bit Coin.
It is easy to set in an office and dream up these projects, make a series of desirable assumptions and sell a project to City Council because they have no expertise in any of the subject matter.
Elected strong mayors and City Council members have become enamored with projects that “pay for themselves” and save the environment. That’s how we got here. Only Steve Kornell had enough common sense to see through all the methane haze and vote no on the original project.
As a good rule of thumb City Council members should routinely look at the long range projected savings from untested projects like this one and divide three. Then look into the costs add a 50% risk factor and then make a decision.

For now, Tankersly and his team are trying rope in TECO/Peoples Gas for transport of the methane to the Sanitation Department for use as motor fuel. The Sanitation Department has a natural-gas fleet of trucks.

Problem is methane is not exactly what Peoples gas has in their system and methane from wastewater treatment facilities is dirty in its initial form. More than likely by the time the City gets the gas processed to meet any commercial use standards the cost will be prohibitive.

If I were advising TECO/Peoples Gas, I would suggest they be understanding and pass.

For now, the best approach may be to invest in a true electric generation facility, use the electric power to run the plant and if there is any surplus sell it to Duke Energy.

This thing was destined to be a disaster from the start and the objective going forward should be to minimize the losses and the impact on rate payer's bills.

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