By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — When people know their jobs count, they can make a difference. Starting in 2005, the city set a course to implement green strategies, in part by energizing employees in every department to look for ways to conserve energy, reduce waste, and make Norman more environmentally friendly.
The city’s Green Team is made up of city employees from every department, and nowhere have results been more successful than in the utility division.
On Thursday, Norman’s efforts were recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as the city was featured in a nationwide webinar.
“It’s a huge honor. There are thousands of wastewater treatment plants just in Oklahoma alone,” said Utilities Director Ken Komiske. “For them to pick us is an acknowledgment that Norman is proactive. We have the support of council and our customers. We couldn’t do it without them.”
The webinar highlighted Norman’s energy efficiency accomplishments and green initiatives which resulted in the reduction of an average monthly electric bill from $43,00 to $30,000.
Water Reclamation Facility Superintendent Steven D. Hardeman told webinar viewers that city green initiatives in 2007 caused utility employees to look at the energy management at the southside water reclamation facility — the city’s sewer plant.
Power is one of the highest expenditures at the plant which uses advanced secondary biological treatment of wastewater. Employees who work in the plant and have daily experience made some of the first power saving suggestions, then the city’s partnership with Garver Engineers resulted in more ideas and more savings.
Hardeman said that 63 percent of the operations and maintenance cost at the wastewater treatment plant is utility cost, and 85 percent of the electric used is spent at the aeration basin.
Microbes clean Norman’s wastewater, eating harmful bacteria and other waste products so that the reclaimed water can be released into the river where nature finishes off the job of cleaning and filtering the water. Just like human beings, those microbes need oxygen to survive and the more they work, the more oxygen they use.
The aeration basin is infused with dissolved oxygen to meet the varying demand of the microbes. The city learned that savings are produced by taking the system operations off auto mode, where it goes full force all the time, and putting it onto manual.
The city saved more than $24,000 per year just by changing procedure. Then, in 2009, it partnered with Garver and found a long term solution by reducing overall aeration energy usage and peak demand. By managing use to avoid peak hours and take advantage of a lower kilowatt cost, even more money was saved.
A grant from the Department of Energy for $1.1 million along with an investment by the city of $1.2 million paid to replace the heat exchangers to bio-efficient heat exchangers in additional to all of the electrical work at the aeration basin.
Hardeman said the mission to go green resulted in utility employees gaining a new understanding of how the system works. The city reduced its peak demand charges and saved in electric costs, but the process also opened their eyes to look at other equipment that had a peak demand they had not known about. They can now operate according to peak demand charges and reduce the kilowatt price tag.
Environmental Services Coordinator Debbie Smith reported on the city’s many green initiatives during the webinar. The Environmental Citizen Advisory Board was appointed to study possible improvements in the city’s environmental policies in 2006. In 2007, ECAB made several recommendations.
Goals include reduction of emissions, adoption and enforcement of land use policies, increased transportation options, increased use of clean, alternative energy, sustainable building, fuel efficiency, water conservation and more.
As a result, Norman increased its fleet of CNG vehicles and opened a CNG fueling station, adopted a native planting policy for city landscaping, hosted rain barrel workshops, created a water quality protection zone to buffer the Lake Thunderbird watershed, and adopted a fertilizer ordinance.
One of the most remarkable accomplishments was the gray water ordinance. Norman was the first city in the state to adopt a gray water ordinance to allow residential water reuse from showers, tubs and washing machines for irrigation purposes. Now, the city is working on an educational campaign to teach plumbers and others how to run piping for gray water use.
This month, the city approved year-round odd/even watering as a water conservation measure.
Water reuse continues to be at the top of the city’s agenda. Currently, the University of Oklahoma golf course uses reclaimed water for irrigation and reclaimed water is used at the southside water reclamation facility, but Norman wants to use reclaimed water in more applications, including on its compost.
Public education initiatives include Water Wise workshops, poster contests in coordination with local elementary schools, tips in the newspaper and more.
Recycling initiatives and hazardous waste collection events help residents live a more environmentally friendly lifestyles.
A new lighting ordinance saves energy and reduces commercial light pollution while the city’s installation of LED traffic signals and street lights is racking up even more savings. Two brand new LEED certified fire stations are more energy efficient, and the greenbelt commission and tree board work to protect green spaces and trees within Norman, while the Bicycle Advisory Board has increased the number of bike lanes and is updating the Bicycle Master Plan. Norman has been recognized as a tree friendly and bicycle friendly city.
Coming soon, the Southside Water Reclamation facility will be upgraded as it enters the Phase II design which will add UV disinfection, odor control, and replacement of equipment that has been in operation since 1965.
Komiske said UV disinfection will use more power, but the cleaner discharge will be better for the environment. A public hearing on the proposed Phase II upgrades of the Water Reclamation Facility is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday at city hall, 201 W. Gray.
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