7 Jul 2009

Visit to sewage plant

OK yesterday I went to Bath for the Wessex Water meeting - see last two blogs for issues I raised - invasive species - and drugs in our water - here below is a bit about the meeting and the visit we were taken on my minibus to the massive sewage plant at Avonmouth. As folk may remember I sit on the Customer Liaison Panel for the District Council - usually three day meetings each year - see last one here.

Photos: Avonmouth - starting with me trying to get my camera to work - then shots of the visit by other councillors from across the Wessex region

Anyhow the meeting was shorter than usual due to having to get to Avonmouth - but as usual we heard lots about the wonders of Wessex Water - yes they are good at PR but also they are leaders in the field and deserve the good press...

...take for example this time we learnt that this is the first time ever no category one or two pollution incidents, the highest ever scores in performance and leaders in the field, topping the Ofwat customer satisfaction tables (first utility and private company in the UK to be awarded the Government's 'Customer Service Excellence Award'), meeting all outputs in their Monitoring Plan, holding leakage figures at 72Ml/d despite coldest winter in 15 years...

I could go on...it is hard to scrutinise such a company when they are ahead of others in their field - it is refreshing to find a business so motivated to ensure customer satisfaction but also to tackle the bigger issues like climate change...

As I've said before they have very ambitious target to be carbon neutral by 2050 - they are already on their way and ahead of most in the world of water. On the visit we were able to see their Combined Heat and Power Plant - see photo below - and the various anaerobic digesters that sort out the sewage so that the remains can be sold to farmers plus the gas can be used to heat and create electricity.

All this is interesting stuff - Biochar can be created - this can then be ploughed into soil - some environmentalists and industry are saying this is a huge opportunity to reduce levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Advocates claim that the science is nearly settled, and that the existence of carbon rich Amazonian soils - formed thousands of years ago from deliberately buried charcoal - is evidence that the carbon stays where it is put. However opponents warn that earth varies hugely, and so does its response to added carbon. And where exactly is all this 'waste' going to come from? It is great that Wessex is exploring this.

One of my other questions was about the wind turbines that Wessex were seeking permission for - well they now have permission for four of them on the site - extraordinarily there were objections even on this industrial site - one of the main ones was around the risks to birds - however regular monitoring of two turbines very close to this site (see photo of these two) found only one bird wing a fair way from the turbine - no evidence that it was the turbine - anyhow this will significantly boost their renewable energy production.

Wessex Water have now created a couple of months ago a company to focus on their energy issues - think it was called Regeneco.

Anyhow I also asked questions about the state of aquifers - just a little down on last year and no significant changes to levels in last 20 years or more - I asked as many aquifers are suffering badly - partly as a result of climate change and mainly over extraction.

Another issue being discussed during the day was what to do with the rising number (2% per annum) of bad debt - a combination of 'can't pay' and 'won't pay' - the lack of right to disconnect makes this a tricky one for companies - for the 'can't pay' the Assist Tariff is working well - for the 'won't pay' there has been speculation in the press about installing trickle flows ie taps only allow a trickle out - this is not legal and Wessex are not considering the move. Indeed I wonder how on earth you can differentiate between can't and won't????

Oh dear it is now too late and I was going to say so much more - if you get the opportunity a visit to a sewage plant is worth it! But for me work early tomorrow so must to bed now....

1 comment:

Philip Booth said...

I have just learn that in February the Government launched a plan to build more anaerobic digesters to turn unwanted food and farm waste into energy and fertiliser. Anaerobic digesters break down organic waste naturally into a solid that can be used as fertiliser and a gas that can be burnt to generate heat and electricity. A task force was launched to help sectors including farming and the water industry meet goals to produce energy from anaerobic digestion. The Government hopes an agreement with the National Farmers’ Union will lead to the use of 1,000 anaerobic digesters by 2020. At present there are estimated to be about 20. The digesters are expected to make many farms self-sufficient in electricity. Any excess could go to the national grid.
The water industry, which has to deal with 1.73 million tonnes of sewage sludge annually, businesses which produce food waste and local authorities could all make use of digesters. If all the organic waste in Britain were recycled in this way, enough energy would be generated to provide two million homes with heat and electricity. The National Grid says waste could be used to generate enough gas to heat half our homes.
Now, United Utilities (UU), the UK’s largest listed water company which supplies seven million people in the North West of England, is planning to sell surplus gas to the National Grid. United is a big user of energy, mainly for pumping. It consumes about 0.3% of UK electricity. To help to cut carbon emissions and fuel costs, UU is stepping up investment in combined heat and power (CHP) engines which use the methane gas by-product of wastewater treatment to generate electricity to power sewage works.