Flowery Branch has completed energy-saving improvements to its sewer treatment plant off Atlanta Highway.
And now it's time to see the savings roll in, or at least offset a recent 9 percent Georgia Power rate hike.
The South Hall city hopes to spend about $20,000 to $25,000 less on electricity costs annually through the project, which involved installing variable frequency drives and a master control panel, equipment that should cut down on the amount of air that's blown in certain plant operations.
"Once we get the (equipment) running, the plant staff is going to have to learn how to (get used to) operating it," said the city's consulting engineer, Bob Troxler. "So it may take a little bit of time to realize the full benefit of it."
City Planner James Riker said a "key component" to the effort also was "an opportunity, given that we are such a small government, to modernize and essentially automate (part) of our plant."
According to a written description of the project by Troxler, and the company that made the equipment, Dresser Roots, the blowers "force air into the mixture of wastewater and organisms so that oxygen is available for the organisms to break down organic matter properly."
"Right now, the blowers we have run at a certain strength, and they're adjusted manually," Riker said in a previous interview. "As a result, they're only adjusted when (employees) are staffing the plant."
With the new equipment, the blowers "will be able to adjust automatically based on the conditions of the plant and through all hours of the day," he added.
The project came about after a Georgia Power audit of all Flowery Branch's government buildings discovered the city could save money from some energy improvements at the plant. Troxler suggested the frequency drives be installed on the blowers, Riker said.
The city paid for the project using a $204,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and administered by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. The grant included some other, minor energy upgrades, with the bulk of it spent at the sewer plant.
Patrick Kelly Electric Inc. of Powder Springs installed the equipment.
"We've been working on the grant for about nine months," Riker said. "It's been a very easy process with (the finance authority)."
Troxler said he is looking at other potential cost-saving measures at the plant.
"We're trying to take it one step at a time," he said. "There are other things we can do at the plant to automate it. It's just a question of (paying upfront)."
Riker said he believes the city would have had a tough time justifying such an expense if it had to pay for the project on its own.
"This (project) is probably what we wouldn't have chosen to do because we have other issues," he said.
However, it should have a positive impact, Riker added.
"We're certainly at a completely different scale than (operations in) Gainesville and Gwinnett County," he said. "But it's still a huge responsibility to make sure what we're doing (at the plant) is consistent with all of our permits and a benefit to the community."