Turning Waste into Energy

By Mike Schneider
Senior Correspondent

It starts here. And ends up here. But on its way to elimination, some food waste is becoming energy.

Chris Rutishauser hates waste, especially at the Ridgewood Water Treatment Plant.

“That’s methane. That’s going up to the sky. It’s not doing anything. So we thought long and hard about how we can capture it, give it another reuse rather than just flaring it off because methane is a greenhouse gas,” he said

Rutishauser is Ridgewood’s public works director. Bob Gillow is the plant supervisor and together they devised a plan to make waste profitable.

“It’s basically restaurant grease that we added. We were already putting municipal sewage. And the digester produces methane gas already, but the grease helps produce more,” Gillow said.

Of course one is tempted to wonder if they’re putting cooking oil into what is normally a very smelly procedure, do things smell better? Not really.

“It’s terrible,” Gillow said.

But it’s quite appealing to the private partners that Ridgewood has attracted.

“They fronted all the capital monies for the engine, the gas cleaning system, storage tanks and all that,” Rutishauser said.

Now there are producing up to 240 kilowatts at a time, enough to power the plant at discount prices.

“We get it at about 12 cents a kilowatt hour,” Rutishauser said. “We usually run around 14, 15, 16 cents a KW.”

They also sell excess power back to the grid, with gas getting a boost from the sun.

“This location’s one of four in the village. What we did is we had solar panels behind us. Also at Village Hall, our fire headquarters and EMS building,” said Rutishauser.

Similar operations are underway at bigger plants around the state, but Ridgewood could be the model for many municipalities.

“We do do a lot of tours. Our partner in this, NSU, does bring other sewage plant operators here to see how we set it up here,” Rutishauser said.

And Rutishauser says the public/private partnership means that Ridgewood taxpayers are burning up fewer dollars while reducing greenhouse gases.