The next time you take a shower, wash dishes, or even drink a glass of water, think about how much energy it took to get the water to you.
The Department of Energy estimates it takes one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy to treat 100 gallons of potable water for every person living in the United States.
Every single day.
That amounts to 2% of ALL energy used in the entire country plus 45,000,000 tons of greenhouse gases escaping into the atmosphere annually.
“Wastewater utilities around the country, around the world use a lot of energy to treat wastewater,” Kevin Shafer, MMSD Executive Director said recently after accepting a Focus on Energy 2023 Energy Efficiency Excellence Award. “It's just one of those things that we do.”
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) doesn’t like wasting energy when treating wastewater. Administrators recognized they needed to find a way to offset energy use and keep rates down for city residents.
They figured out how to do that nearly 100 years ago.
Scientists discovered the waste sludge created after water treatment could be used to create fertilizer. MMSD packaged the fertilizer and called it Milorganite. You find it in any garden section at your local do-it-yourself store.
That desire to not waste anything has permeated MMSD, guiding managers towards energy efficiency goals that would eliminate the need to purchase electricity for water treatment and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from MMSD facilities by 2035.
“Some pretty ambitious goals,” Shafer said. “100% renewable, 80% of it being self-produced by the district. Staff just took it and went. And it was just like wildfire.”
Throughout all of these completed and planned energy improvement projects, MMSD expects to see a more than 11% reduction in energy demand and increase renewable gas production of 141%.
MMSD lighting projects dropped energy usage by almost 3%.
“Implementing projects, things like solar panels, that we have on some of our buildings,” Micki Klappa-Sullivan, MMSD Manager of Engineering Planning said. “We have projects, putting solar on buildings everywhere, everywhere. Next year, we'll be starting on projects to put solar at South Shore and more buildings at Jones Island.”
A rooftop garden at the MMSD downtown headquarters shares the neighborhood with the solar panels and view of Milwaukee. Renewable energy sources, like the electric vehicles used by staff at MMSD headquarters, the reuse methane gas to run generators, and 18 more projects planned in the next decade means Milwaukee residents keep money in their pockets with lower sewage rates.
“You're resulting in a savings of $140,000 per month to the Milwaukee rate payers,” Lisa Stefanik, Focus on Energy Managing Director said.
MMSD accomplishes those savings by generating its own renewable fuel at South Shore Water Reclamation Facility (SSWRF) and at Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility (JIWRF). The primary renewable fuel at SSWRF comes from methane gas produced by the digesters. The methane gas generated by the digesters runs a battery of generators producing electricity that meets plant’s energy demands and offsets the need to purchase energy. The primary renewable fuel at JIWRF comes from landfill gas recycled to fuel a turbine engine.
“The Excellence Award reflects the partnership and longstanding relationship that Focus on Energy has developed with the staff and management teams,” Joe Cantwell, Focus on Energy Advisor said. “WE Energies, I mean, shout out to them for their assistance.”
“I really want to thank the people that helped work on this application, said Klappa-Sullivan. Bri Clear, Matt McGruder and Brittany Hess of my staff. And then, a shout out to Kevin Jankowski. He is not with the district anymore. He's moved on to bigger and brighter things, but he's been a real force in helping us move forward with how we're just looking at energy and making sure that we're tracking it and being responsive to our rate payers.