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My View: Turn waste into clean energy

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Starting this summer, Environmental Services will kick off an innovative effort designed to capture 100 percent of the methane from our waste, dramatically reducing our carbon footprint. We will then convert the methane into renewable natural gas to reduce our reliance on dirty diesel. And through our partnership with local utility NW Natural, we will generate $3 million each year for our ratepayers. This is a triple win for Portland.

At the Bureau of Environmental Services, we know that what's good for the environment is typically good for our ratepayers. That's why, in celebration of Earth Day, we are excited to announce an innovative venture to turn waste into clean energy while earning money for Portlanders.

Every year, we process 28 billion gallons of sewage. A little-known, natural byproduct of sewage treatment is methane, a potent greenhouse gas. For years, the city has been capturing a portion of this methane gas to produce electricity. The rest has been burned off in a process called "flaring" where it turns into carbon dioxide and is released into the atmosphere.

That's about to change.

Starting this summer, Environmental Services will kick off an innovative effort designed to capture 100 percent of the methane from our waste, dramatically reducing our carbon footprint. We will then convert the methane into renewable natural gas to reduce our reliance on dirty diesel. And through our partnership with local utility NW Natural, we will generate $3 million each year for our ratepayers. This is a triple win for Portland.

So how big a deal is this, really?

It will be the city's single largest greenhouse gas reduction project to date.

Converting methane into renewable natural gas and using it to power vehicles will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21,000 tons each year. That will help us reach the ambitious goals of our City-County Climate Action Plan as well as Mayor Ted Wheeler's pledge to transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2050. That's win one.

The renewable natural gas will be used to replace more than a million gallons of dirty diesel truck fuel every year. By the end of 2018, we will supply enough clean fuel to run the equivalent of 154 garbage trucks for an entire year. That's win two.

And we'll pass the proceeds from our natural gas sales directly to you — our customer. That's win three.

We will present our proposal to the City Council for review and approval. It already has the blessing of the Citizen's Utility Board of Oregon, our residential ratepayer watchdog. To make this exciting plan a reality, we'll seek the council's approval to build a compressed natural gas fueling station at the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant and a separate facility to send our methane to NW Natural. From there, it will be sold on the renewable energy market.

This year we are celebrating the 47th Earth Day. On April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets and committed to protecting our planet. The first Earth Day launched the modern environmental movement.

Today, that movement faces unprecedented challenges. While we have limited control over what is happening in Washington, D.C., and around the country, the City of Portland will continue to lead by example on clean air, clean water, and clean energy. And we are very proud to do our part.

Nick Fish is a Portland city commissioner. He leads the city's two public utility agencies: The Bureau of Environmental Services and the Portland Water Bureau. Mike Jordan is director of the Bureau of Environmental Services.