Columbia Canal Water Plant

Columbia upgrades canal water plant

cleblanc@thestate.comMarch 29, 2013 

— The city of Columbia’s latest upgrades at its downtown water treatment plant will save the city $68,000 yearly on the plant’s power bill and cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent, plant officials said.

Energy-efficient pumps installed at the 107-year-old plant along the Columbia Canal also will add 14 million gallons per day for consumers to use. And the improvement will give the plant the ability to more readily adjust its output to meet consumer demand.

But the efficiency won’t lower customers’ bills.

The $27 million project that replaced six pumps – most were 40 to 70 years old – still needs approval from the state environmental agency before it is fully operational, said James “Bud” Summers, the superintendent of Columbia’s water-delivery system. That approval is likely to come during the last half of the year because the new pumps require testing during peak summer demand, he said.

The new pumps allow the plant to produce 85 million gallons daily, compared with the current 71 million gallons per day, Summers said. The extra 14 million gallons is equivalent to 21 Olympic-size swimming pools, city officials said.

The old pumps either turned fully-on or fully-off to adapt to demand. The new ones have a variable frequency design that allows them to pump the amount of water customers need, therefore the machines use less electricity, Summers said.

Figures from 2009, for example, show the plant consumed 18.3 million kilowatts of electricity that year, said city water plant engineer John Sherer. The annual power bill works out to about $1.36 million.

The new pumps will shave $68,000, or 5 percent, off that yearly expense, Sherer said.

The aging plant, just off Huger Street near Riverfront Park, has been undergoing improvements since the early 1990s and is within five years of its final upgrade, Summers said. After onsite storage tanks and other pumps are improved by 2018, the plant will not need expansion for another 15 to 20 years, he said.

“We are investing in the future,” Sherer said.

Columbia has a second, more modern water plant, on Lake Murray.

Columbia’s water system uses so much electricity that it produces about one-third of all the greenhouse gases generated by city government, according to a 2006 analysis of air pollution coming from city plants, buildings and vehicles.

Data from that year, the most recent the city has, show the electricity consumed by the water system is responsible for 22.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, said Mary Pat Baldauf, the city’s sustainability facilitator. All of city government’s power consumption created 76.3 million metric tons of air pollution.

Some of the electricity the city gets from SCE&G’s power grid comes from coal-powered plants, Summers and Sherer said. Coal-powered plants are heavy contributors to air pollution.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. is in the process of closing some of its coal-powered plants. Coal plants produce 48 percent of SCE&G’s total electric output, Sherer said.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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