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Local News

Santa Barbara Officials Celebrate City’s New Renewable Energy Facility

Cogeneration operation at the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant will convert fats, oils and grease from local restaurants

The new cogeneration facility at the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant turns a portion of the city’s fats, oils and grease from restaurants into renewable energy to power the plant, and city officials cut the ribbon on it Monday afternoon — Earth Day.

El Estero can handle millions of gallons of wastewater per day in its facilities, but the city’s 350 or so restaurants are required to install grease traps so the fats, oils and grease don’t coat and block the sewer system pipes. The 20,000 gallons daily are now collected by MarBorg Industries and hauled to Bakersfield, Fresno or Watsonville for processing or disposal.

The FOG (fats, oils and grease) facility project is a system to convert gallons of that “goop” to electricity and hot water for the plant, Mayor Helene Schneider said. It’s funded through a power purchase agreement with California Power Partners and provides up to 4,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day, or enough to power more than 700 local homes, explained Jim Dewey, facilities director for the Public Works Department.

Schneider said the plant will save $60,000 per year in electricity costs and provide most of the plant’s energy needs.

“I see this as a national model,” she said of the facility.

Anthony Borgatello, MarBorg’s general manager of liquid waste, said the company is proud to be part of the project.

Project engineer James Winslow explains the FOG (fats, oils and grease) receiving facility at the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)
Project engineer James Winslow explains the FOG (fats, oils and grease) receiving facility at the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The restaurant grease is “terrible looking and terrible smelling,” so it’s exciting to know that it has a use powering generators and creating energy and hot water for the plant, he said.

Reducing the company’s truck trips to Bakersfield — they go four or five times a week — will also help the company’s carbon footprint, he added.

Project engineer James Winslow gave a tour of the new receiving facility, which is next to a driveway for MarBorg trucks to pump in the FOG. The city is taking in 2,000 gallons per day right now, but has the capacity to increase to 5,000 gallons daily. A fiberglass-insulated tank recirculates all the FOG to keep it mixed together, and the huge concrete digester tanks eventually turn that sewage into gas, which is processed into electricity and hot water by the cogeneration facility.

The FOG is better food for the bacteria than the rest of the wastewater, so it’s expected to produce more methane and therefore more energy, Winslow said.

The facility is hooked up to El Estero’s computer system now so wastewater operators can control the pump rates from other areas, he added.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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