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South Coast Today - Fairhaven Breaks Ground On Renewable Energy Project

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Location: Fairhaven, MA

A renewable energy project expected to help save Fairhaven about $300,000 a year got its official start Monday at a ground-breaking ceremony on Arsene Street. Local and state officials gathered at the wastewater treatment plant to celebrate the building of an anaerobic digestor that will convert sewer sludge to biogas.

The beauty of the project, they said, is that it will help reduce energy use and protect the environment but also save the town money and create jobs.

"It is a long-term investment in the community," said Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Regional Administrator Ira Leighton.

In comments, Fairhaven was noted for being on the leading edge of renewable energy efforts for its diverse projects, including the wastewater treatment project, a solar panel system for the landfill on Bridge Street and two commercial wind turbines to be built behind the Arsene Street facility.

The sewage project and solar panel system are expected to save the town $300,000 annually.

On hand to praise the project for its innovative approach to energy efficiency were a host of officials, including U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, Sen. Mark C. Montigny, D-New Bedford, and Rep. William M. Straus, D-Mattapoisett, plus representatives from the state Department of Environmental Management and the EPA. Fairhaven selectmen, the Board of Public Works and representatives from other town boards were also present.

"It is very nice to see the town be at the forefront of one of our most important issues," Frank said. "This is an extremely important effort not just for the town but also as a model for the country."

A big plus for Fairhaven is not having to wait several years to recoup capital costs through energy savings. Instead the project is almost completely funded through close to $8 million in recovery act funding, in the form of a loan that will be forgiven.

Fairhaven's portion of the bill is expected to be about $1 million, to be taken from its sewer fund, said William A. Fitzgerald Jr., BPW superintendent. The town of Mattapoisett, which uses the treatment plant, will contribute 10 percent of Fairhaven's actual cost, he said.

And while officials haven't settled on what the project's impact on sewer rates will be yet, Fitzgerald said it may help keep them from going up.

Construction will get under way this month, Selectman Brian Bowcock said, with completion of the entire project expected in summer 2011.

The energy generated from the new system will offset about half of the treatment plant's total use, according to Fitzgerald, who said the plant accounts for about 33 percent of the town's entire energy budget.

The possible addition of two wind turbines is expected to generate substantially more energy, he said, more than enough to power every municipal building in town.

The digestor itself will be 3,500-square-foot building with two tanks behind it. The system will create biogas from waste sludge, then burn it to generate electricity and heat for the treatment plant.

Using the sludge for energy means the town will also lower its disposal costs by about $135,000 annually, down from $309,000 last year, Fitzgerald said.

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