Avon looks to heat streets, not planet | AspenTimes.com

Avon looks to heat streets, not planet

Matt Terrell
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

AVON, Colo. ” Instead of using gas-fired boilers to melt snow on future downtown streets and sidewalks, Avon wants to use the leftover, excess heat created by the wastewater treatment plant a couple blocks away.

For months, the Town Council has struggled with the environmental consequences of installing a snowmelt system in the soon-to-be redeveloped downtown. The system would keep streets mostly snow and ice free, but also require burning fossil fuels and dumping tons of earth-warming carbon dioxide in the air.

It seemed to be a choice between having safer, pedestrian-friendly streets, or becoming a much bigger polluter.

The nearby wastewater plant offers a solution. It takes a lot of energy to treat used water and solid waste, and there’s a lot of heat that’s generated but not reused. By capturing this heat and transferring it to a chemical mixture that would be pumped to downtown Avon beneath the streets, the town wouldn’t have to fire-up boilers for snowmelt.

Doing this would eliminate most of the pollution that usually comes with snowmelt, says Jenny Strehler, director of public works and transportation.

At the same time, this would end up being good for fish in the Eagle River. The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which runs the wastewater plant, says this would be a good way to cool off water before it’s put back in the Eagle River. Cooler water is much better for spawning fish.

This would be the first time in the country that waste heat from a treatment plant would be used to power a snowmelt system, Strehler said.

At first, installing snowmelt seemed to go against some of the positive work being done in Avon to help the environment and reduce its carbon footprint ” things like buying windpower, performing energy audits and buying a hybrid bus.

In 2006, Avon released 3,729 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Installing traditional snowmelt could increase the town’s carbon footprint anywhere from 769 tons of carbon of year to nearly 3,000 tons of carbon a year, depending on how much they used. Most of that carbon footprint would come from using gas-fired boilers.

While the council had a tough time getting around the environmental impact, they agreed that installing some amount of snowmelt would make sense, especially since downtown Avon is being designed for walkers.

After hearing the proposal to use energy from the wastewater plant, the council seemed more comfortable with heating streets.

“Only because of this can I buy into snowmelting Main Street,” said council woman Tamra Nottingham Underwood at Tuesday’s work session.

Using heat from the wastewater plant wouldn’t totally eliminate the carbon footprint of snowmelt. Motorized pumps would still have to circulate the heated glycol through the town, and that requires burning energy. To power those heat pumps, the town would buy wind-generated electricity, Strehler said.

Now that the town has said “yes” to snowmelt, the council said it only wants a minimal amount installed in the busiest areas for walkers. Snowmelt piping has already been installed at Avon Station, the town’s major bus stop by the Westin, and some snowmelt would likely be installed on the new Main Street and Lettuce Shed Lane, a planned pedestrian path that connects Avon Station to Main Street.

The wastewater plant would also use snowmelt on some of its driveways.

Installing snowmelt will still be expensive.

It will cost around $2.45 million to build the heat-pump system, and up to another $740,000 to install pipes on Main Street and Lettuce Shed Lane, depending on how much they decide to snowmelt.

The costs would be shared with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. Both the town and the district are hoping about 80 percent of the costs will be paid for through grants. Because the project shows some creative thinking and environmental leadership, they’ll have some competitive advantages in applying for grants, Strehler said.

It will also cost a lot of money to keep the system running every year ” about $350,000 ” but it will cost less than it would have with traditional snowmelt, which could have been at least $513,000 a year.

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District could also save some money every year. By pulling heat from its solid waste, they’ll be able to reduce the amount of chemicals needed to treat all that nasty stuff that isn’t water.