Tempe has discovered a potentially lucrative source ofalternative energy in the ickiest of places: restaurant greasetraps.
The city is eyeing disgustingly large volumes of grease assomething that could generate biofuel — and generate $3 million to$4 million in the next 20 years.
Restaurant grease is mostly a headache to Tempe and other citiesnow, as some restaurant owners flout rules that they periodicallymust clean the material sucked out of collectors. the grease clogssewers and forces expensive maintenance projects.
And some unscrupulous vendors suck out grease, only to drive a fewblocks and pour it into a sewer drain.
Tempe is evaluating whether it should offer grease collectionservices to stop evasive restaurants or grease haulers. it wouldstart with 100 restaurants, which would produce 5,000 gallons aday. the restaurant cluster downtown is the best place to start,Councilwoman Onnie Shekerjian said.
“That’s a good center of grease because we have so many of them,”she said.
Shekerjian said she would prefer restaurants to sign up for cityservice rather than mandating it. Tempe estimates it could charge15 percent less than private haulers, which could encouragewidespread participation.
If the experiment works, Tempe would consider expanding to servethe city’s 650 restaurants.
Tempe has only identified a few cities that collect greasethemselves. the programs reduced costs to restaurants, said DavidMcNeil, Tempe’s environmental services manager.
“They had one less thing to worry about,” he said. “They didn’thave to pick up the phone to find somebody to pick up grease. Itjust happens.”
The grease issue was forced on Tempe after the Arizona Departmentof Environmental Quality found too much of the substance wasflowing into sewers. Tempe is considering a one-year pilot programstarting in early 2012. the effort has the potential to spreadacross the Valley, McNeil said.
“I think other cities are looking at what we’re doing not only froman energy standpoint, but from a sewage-management standpoint,” hesaid.
The biggest hurdle for turning the grease into energy is there’s nocity-owned facility that can do the job. Tempe is talking to Mesaabout processing the grease at a wastewater plant on the southeastcorner of the Loop 101 and Loop 202.
The plant is adjacent to the planned Chicago Cubs spring trainingcomplex. Mesa is studying whether the grease processing would leadto odor problems.
A $1.2 million plant would save $200,000 a year in energyproduction and by reducing grease in sewers, said Scott Bouchie,Mesa’s deputy director for environment and sustainability. A$1.7 million configuration would save $400,000 a year.
Further study is needed, said Kathryn Sorensen, the water resourcesdepartment director.
“Mesa wouldn’t undertake it if it didn’t at least pay for itselfand provide some other tangible benefits,” Sorensen said.
Tempe is hoping Mesa makes a decision by 2013. If Mesa decides notto build the grease facility, Tempe would consider building one ata West Valley wastewater treatment plant it owns with several othercities.
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