By Jeanne Starmack
A celebratory mood enveloped the sewage treatment plant on Lowellville Road on Friday morning.
That wasn’t because the place smelled good. In fact it smelled horrible, but if the city and Mahoning County officials who were gathered there wished they could just get the heck out, they were too polite to say so.
Finding a bright side was John Pierko of the engineering firm MS Consultants. That smell, he pointed out, was really the smell of money — money being saved by the city and the county.
Methane gas, a byproduct of waste treatment that used to burn off in a giant flame at the plant, is now being captured and used to generate electricity there.
Two huge generators that run on the captured methane are operating and providing nearly half the kilowatts needed to run the plant, said its manager, Bob Gentile.
That means a big savings on the electric bill, which has fallen from $25,000 a month to between $13,000 and $14,000.
There is also a big savings on natural gas, because the plant uses less of it to run its treatment digesters. The heat from the two generators warms water in a loop system that heats the digesters, Gentile said. The gas bill fell recently from around $1,700 a month to around $500, he said.
The county, which absorbs 64.5 percent of the plant’s operating costs because the plant treats sewage from unincorporated areas, benefits along with the city, officials gathered there pointed out.
They were there to formally cut the ribbon on the generators, even though they are up and running. The ceremony was also a celebration of an accomplishment that snagged the entire cost of the generators, $5.4 million, from federal stimulus money that had been distributed by the states for environmentally “green” projects.
“Remember ‘shovel-ready’?” said Struthers Mayor Terry Stocker, referring to the catch phrase of two years ago that meant a community had a leg up on getting stimulus funds for projects.
“You had to be ready,” said Stocker, adding that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency gave the city guidance and a time frame. The city already had a five-year plan to replace the plant’s old generator.
Officials had to work fast, and the state, city and county did that, Stocker said. MS Consultants, the project engineers, worked quickly as well.
“In six weeks, the drawings were done and out to bid,” Pierko said.
Meanwhile, the city went from receiving an award of $1.5 million toward the generators and intending to pursue a low-interest loan for the rest of the funding to learning the state was giving it a full award.
“It’s one of the most successful collaborative projects I have worked on,” said county Commissioner Anthony Traficanti.
“This money came to the Mahoning Valley and will now save for the city and the county,” said state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33rd of Canfield.