The Village of Essex Jct. was awarded a 2018 Vermont Governor’s Award in sustainability for recent upgrades to its wastewater treatment facility. Among this year’s other winners were the Essex-based GlobalFoundries and Middlebury’s Vermont Coffee Company.

The village’s project was completed in 2015 and consisted of $15.4 million in upgrades and improvements to the facility to save money and increase the system’s sustainability and efficiency.

“The goal was to save money and invest in a realistic way for the users,” said Jim Jutras, water quality superintendent for the village.

And save money it has: Jutras said the improvements are saving the village up to $100,000 a year. Those savings come in the form of reducing energy usage and sustainable practices, including reusing heat and energy the system produces when treating the water.

One means to that end is the facility’s combined heat and power installation, Jutras said. The CHP captures energy coming off the machines that treat the water and uses it to power the anaerobic digester and some of the control buildings.

Excess methane is also captured by the CHP and is used to power the system, saving on the amount of natural gas used by the facility, Jutras said. Additionally, the anaerobic digester, used to break down sludge from the treatment of the wastewater, produces both heat and biosolids. The heat goes back into the system to power the equipment, and the solids are treated and used as fertilizer at a nearby farm, essentially closing the loop, Jutras said.

“Instead of the typical efficiency of 40-50 percent of combustion of fuel, we’re getting in the 85 percent-plus range because we’re generating power and recovering the heat off of the generator,” Jutras explained.

To further decrease dependence on nonrenewable energy, the village installed solar walls on two buildings and two others are powered by geothermal energy. Two buildings also use waste heat from the water treatment process for heating and cooling. In addition, the facility gets some of its energy from a private solar field installation on the property.

The wastewater facility also used the 2015 upgrades to anticipate new standards for phosphorus discharges by the state.

Phosphorous is currently one of the leading concerns for water quality in the Lake Champlain basin. Excess amounts in the lake contribute to algae blooms and threaten environmental and public health.

Major sources for the nutrient in Lake Champlain include agricultural and urban runoff, according to the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Only 2 percent comes from Vermont’s wastewater, but these facilities are still heavily regulated by the EPA to curb phosphorus discharge.

Part of the upgrades to the village’s wastewater treatment facility included an improved filtration process and equipment to reduce the amount of phosphorous getting into Lake Champlain, Jutras said.

Currently, the facility is permitted to discharge .8 milligrams of phosphorus per liter of water, but by 2020 it will have to reduce that amount to .2 mg/l. However, Jutras said the 2015 upgrades brought the system to that target already, and the village will continue optimizing the system to continue decreasing that amount.

The facility is expensive to operate, but Jutras said the village’s investment in it is good for the long run.

“If you can save some money and reduce your natural gas bills at the same time and increase the efficiency of the operation, it’s great to be recognized,” he said. “But we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do for the rate payers.”