ST. PETERSBURG — City officials have had two meetings with representatives from TECO Peoples Gas this month to determine whether its possible to use natural gas to power its sanitation trucks.
The renewable energy would come from a $93.6 million biosolids project that the city has been working on for seven years. Now set to be completed in June 2019, the project is designed to convert wastewater byproducts into methane gas at the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility next to Eckerd College.
The goal is for that biogas to then integrated into the natural gas distribution system for TECO Peoples Gas.
The project was first conceived in 2011 but all these years later still faces unanswered questions such as: Is Peoples Gas willing to provide a pipeline to get the gas from the new facility to the trucks?
City Council members expressed concern at a May 3 meeting that they still don't know whether Peoples Gas will actually commit to the project. Using biogas to fuel the city's garbage truck fleet is a key part of the city's plan to earn money back from the project.
Since facing a strict line of questioning earlier in the month, city staff said Thursday they met with Peoples Gas twice in May to discuss the project.
The utility company is still uncommitted — and likely will be for the next six months to a year, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin — but it did show interest in the project on Thursday.
"We're very supportive of the project and would like to see it work,"Juan Reina, manager of natural gas wholesale origination at Peoples Gas, told the council.
But TECO Energy Regional Manager Holly Miller stressed that the company has not come to any decisions yet.
"This is a bit of a different program or project than what we normally work on," she said.
Without the ability to use the biogas in the sanitation trucks, the city expects to make $14 million from the project over 20 years, Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley said.
But that number could more than double if an agreement is reached with Peoples Gas to power the trucks, thanks to a federal credit earned for renewable energy. The city can then sell those credits to fuel refiners and importers.
If Peoples Gas does not agree to work with the city, the biogas would be used to power the Southwest sewage plant. Any excess gas would need to be flared off — or burned off — a less than ideal solution for the environment
When asked by council member Amy Foster if there are environmental consequences to flaring off the extra gas, Tankersley did not provide a yes or no answer.
"It would be better for us to use it," he said.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.