Converting gas from human waste into energy will be one of the goals of a $3.1 million upgrade at the Medford sewage treatment plant in Central Point.
The new generator will produce about 10,500 kilowatt hours a month, or enough energy to run 11 homes. In 10 years, the power output is expected to rise because of increased methane production. A typical American home uses 958 kilowatt hours a month.
The Regional Water Reclamation Facility has generated electricity by burning methane for 20 years.
The methane fuel is a byproduct of the sewage digesters at the plant that treat flows from the cities of Medford, Central Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Talent, Eagle Point and other unincorporated Jackson County areas.
In recent years, the engine that powers the generator has become less reliable and has required more repairs.
The city looked at other ways to use the gas including compressing it for use in vehicles, selling it to a local utility, flaring the gas or just doing nothing with it.
In the end, the city decided the best option was to replace the engine.
Cory Crebbin, Medford Public Works director, said the engine and generator are an expensive option.
Even though the system will be new, it still costs a lot in maintenance, he said.
"This is not a cheap piece of equipment to keep running," he said.
The maintenance costs are offset to a certain extent because the methane is used to heat up digesters in the winter months.
Otherwise, the treatment plant would have to purchase up to $30,000 worth of natural gas a month, Crebbin said.
Crebbin said the decision to purchase the engine and generator was made after the city received grants for the project totaling more than $1.3 million.
The Energy Trust of Oregon will contribute $450,000 for the project.
Energy tax credits from the Oregon Department of Energy are worth $883,000.
The remaining dollars are being paid through sewer fees.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.