Camden County is putting its waste to work on overtime.
The Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, the agency that treats most of the county's sewage, launched a project Thursday to swap one million gallons a day of effluent from its Camden wastewater treatment plant for energy produced by a nearby power plant, whose primary fuel source is trash.
The agreement between the CCMUA and Covanta Camden Energy Recovery Center will create what officials are calling a "sustainability loop" that will provide the sewage authority with electricity from the power plant in exchange for treated wastewater that will be used to cool the generation plant. The agreement will help the wastewater plant operate independently of the regional power grid.
The treated wastewater that Covanta will receive, which will be a small portion of the 58 million gallons of effluent the CCMUA now discharges into the Delaware, will replace freshwater that Covanta buys from the city of Camden, drawn from an aquifer.
"This was a no-brainer for us," said James Regan, a spokesman for Covanta, which is based in Morristown, N.J.
CCMUA on Thursday marked the launch of the final phase of a multi-year project to reduce its energy costs and to convert its Delaware River waterfront facility to renewable energy. The previous phases included energy efficiency improvements, a 2-megawatt solar system built in 2012 atop the authority's treatment tanks, and a 3.5-megawatt power generator, set to go online in 2019, that will be fueled by methane derived from sewage sludge.
"When we're finished, we'll get all our power from the sun, trash, and biosolids," said Andy Kricun, the CCMUA's executive director.
The Camden project was among 13 "microgrid" projects that received funding for feasibility studies in June from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. CCMUA received $150,000 of more than $2 million distributed for the projects.
Microgrids are self-generating networks that are connected to the regional power grid, but can operate independently in case of a general power outage. The BPU's interest in shoring up the grid's resilience was heightened after Hurricane Sandy, which left some of the state's critical infrastructure powerless, including wastewater treatment plants.
"This project will not only help the environment and get the CCMUA off the grid, but it will also save about $600,000 in annual electricity costs," said Camden County Freeholder Jeff Nash, who attended an event Thursday to announce it. "So, we can help the environment by lowering our carbon footprint while we also lower our total annual costs."
The feasibility study will examine the costs of building an underground power line and an adjacent treated-wastewater pipe between the CCMUA's facility and the Covanta plant, which are about a mile apart, said Kricun.
The study will also explore the feasibility of connecting other facilities to the Covanta-powered microgrid, such as the Camden Housing Authority, elementary schools, several supermarkets, and a gas station, according to the BPU.
"This makes a lot of business and environmental sense," said Regan, the Covanta spokesman. The company is a worldwide operator of power systems, including waste-to-energy facilities in Conshohocken, Chester, and Camden.
The Camden power plant produces 21 megawatts of electricity, of which the CCMUA expects to buy up to 4 megawatts directly on the dedicated power line, or about half the authority's power needs.
The energy that Covanta generates is more valuable than the treated wastewater that the CCMUA provides, said Kricun, so terms of the swap deal between the CCMUA and Covanta still need be worked out.