Fort Worth lauded for energy efficiency

The Village Creek Water Reclamation Facility does more than treat wastewater for Fort Worth and 22 surrounding communities.

It does so while using less energy.

The achievement impressed federal energy officials, who in April applauded the city and its businessses for reducing its energy use by 8 percent in 14 public and private buildings that took part in the Better Buildings Challenge

“It’s a work in progress,” said Sebastian “Buster” Fichera, an assistant director in Fort Worth’s Water Department, addressing media and industry observers on April 14. The group toured the facility, located in Arlington just north of Interstate 30 between Loop 820 and Texas 360.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

“What’s fascinating about projects like this is every day you come in to work, there are new challenges, there’s new opportunity,” Fichera said.

The city seized that opportunity in 2012 by signing on to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, in which participants strive to make their respective buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020.

The department said Fort Worth is “on track” to meet that goal. A big reason for that success is the Arlington facility, which captures and recycles methane gas to generate 75 percent of its electricity on site. Also contributing to its savings are air conditioning and heating upgrades and lighting retrofits.

More improvements stand to make it a zero-energy facility, meaning that the total amount of energy it uses annually approximates the amount of renewable energy it creates. In effect it would generate all of its electricity.

- Advertisement -

The city sank $35 million into upgrading the Village Creek plant, allowing it to reduce electricity consumption by 39 percent and cutting electricity bills by $2.5 million annually. Fichera put the current annual cost of electricity at about $1 million.

“It’s quite efficient,” said Jerry Pressley, water systems superintendent at the facility.

Standing in a control room near the mammoth anaerobic digester containers that play a big role in producing methane-rich biogas, Pressley explained the difference that new computers and other equipment has made.

“We have 105 full-time employees now, but we’d need 175 employees to do the work without the aid of computers,” Pressley said

- Advertisement -

Helping Fort Worth achieve better energy efficiency was Johnson Controls Inc., a Milwaukee-based technology and industrial firm. With its help, Fort Worth officials hope to achieve that zero-energy goal. But by participating in the Better Buildings Challenge — and launching its own citywide effort, also in 2012 — Mayor Betsy Price said the city hopes to make energy efficiency an everyday reality.

“As one of the cities in the Better Buildings Challenge, we continually look to extend our efforts to prudently manage our utilities and partner with local businesses and property owners to better understand opportunities to achieve strategic goals of the city,” Price said in a news release.

Even before the city accepted the Better Buildings Challenge, Village Creek was pursuing energy efficiency. Since the early 1960s, the facility has generated electricity from methane produced during anaerobic digestion, a process that produces biogas, composed mainly of methane and carbon dioxide.

It achieved better results in 2001 after replacing the plant’s original internal combustion engines with two 5.2-megawatt turbine engines.

Before the current energy-efficiency project began in 2008, the turbines already supplied about 50 percent of Village Creek’s electricity.

“We were spending about $3.5 million a year on electricity in the early 2000s and late 1990s,” said Fichera. “We needed this,” he said of the upgraded plant. “This was not an option.”