Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On Turning Waste into Watts…

By Jeanette Brown, Vice President of WEF

As WEF vice president, I testified before the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee this morning about protecting water quality and public health more economically and efficiently. It was extremely rewarding and an experience I will certainly never forget.

It was really inspiring to be able to place our shared goal for sustainable water infrastructure squarely on the new administration’s radar screen. (Read full testimony.) As water quality professionals, we know that the proper treatment of our water makes significant demand for energy, the cost of which cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Energy efficiency and energy independence are essential to sustainable wastewater treatment. We are concerned about the high use and cost of energy (over 30% of a utility’s operating budget!) as well as the age of water infrastructure. As members of the Water Environment Federation, we have continually taken a proactive approach to address conservation and renewable energy using technology and innovation. WEF has documented this commitment to the environment and our water through conferences, papers, forums, and publications. (See WEF's Sustainability & Energy Knowledge Center.) I’m optimistic that key legislators understand this now, too.

But perhaps as important as all of that is a major evolution in thinking where wastewater utilities are beginning to be viewed as big players in conserving or even supplying energy, rather than energy consumers or waste generators. It’s a paradigm shift advanced by cost, climate change, and sustainability considerations. In fact, we initiated a pilot study and scaled research program for the conversion of wastewater biosolids to synthetic gas ( at my own utility with the support of the Federal Department of Energy. As discussed this morning, other new approaches that can turn waste to energy, generate electricity and income, or use energy efficiently are taking place across the country and around the world.

We like to say that the success of our sustainable future will be “CTI”; Conservation, Technology, and Innovation. We are the people who can turn waste into watts! I was grateful for today’s opportunity to shed some light on this topic and feel truly honored to be part of this wonderful community of environmental stewards and professional practitioners who dedicate their lives to the preservation of our most valued resource, our water.


  1. Keep up the great work keeping these issues "top of mind" with legislators.

    Maybe our future success will ultimately be CTI$ (or CTI<$ perhaps!)

  2. Use less, treat less, cost less

    Got Gas?.........Sure Do!

  3. Here is an article (click on my name) about Grand Rapids and energy.