AUBURN — A $16.6 million sewage treatment plant, meant to produce methane that can be burned to make electricity, won’t turn a profit for Lewiston-Auburn but it will cut down on costs.

“We try not to use the profit word,” said John Donovan, vice president of  consulting engineers Camp, Dresser and McKee, told Auburn city councilors Monday. 

Instead, the proposed anaerobic digestion plant would cut the amount of solids that need to be disposed of by 40 percent and produce two-thirds of the electricity the sewage treatment plant uses.

“What we are trying to do is reduce overall costs for the sewer rate payers in both cities,” Donovan said. “This may be the best way to do that.”

Donovan and representatives from the Lewiston-Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority presented the plans to the city at a Monday night workshop. They are scheduled to make the same presentation to the Lewiston City Council at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Lewiston City Hall.

The authority’s board is scheduled to vote on whether they want to proceed with the expansion Sept. 8.

Currently, the authority treats an average of 12.7 million gallons of sewage per day at its Lincoln Street facility. About half of the solids are mixed with wood waste and used to create a high quality compost at a facility on Penley Corner Road in Auburn.

The rest of the solid waste needs to be disposed of. About half of what remains is taken to area farms, but the authority pays landfills to take the rest.

“If it comes in to our facility, it needs to go back out,” said Phil Nadeau, authority chairman and Lewiston deputy city administrator.

One solution is to build a digestion energy recovery plant at the authority’s site in Lewiston. That would pump the solid waste tanks heated to 95 degrees for two weeks, removing an estimated 170,000 cubic feet of methane gas daily. That would be burned to produce electricity.

All told, the facility would save the authority about $608,000 per year. The project could qualify for a 2 percent loan through the Maine Revolving Loan fund. According to the terms of that loan, the last 6 percent of the loan would be forgiven.

But Auburn Councilor Dan Herrick said he wasn’t convinced  that it makes sense to build a plant now when the economy is bad.

“You’re asking to spend $16 million, but I want to know when it would get paid back,” he said. “When does it stop? When do we stop paying?”

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