Last October, power outages due to Hurricane Sandy caused a shutdown at the Little Patuxent sewage plant, releasing 19.5 million gallons of untreated effluent into the Little Patuxent River. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman decided to put plans in place to ensure it would never happen again.
Monday morning, almost one year after the Hurricane Sandy disaster, Ulman broke ground on an $8.1 million electrical protection system that will work to prevent future power-outage-related overflows at the county's wastewater treatment plant in Savage.
"We must protect our waterways from that kind of event," Ulman said in a statement. "I promised at the time that it would never happen again. And we're keeping true to our word."
The electrical protection system, which will be the first in the state to back up 100 percent of the wastewater treatment plant's power on site, includes three generators that will produce a total 7.5 kilowatts of electrical power among them when running. The generators, which cost $6.1 million, will run on diesel fuel.
To offset the carbon footprint of the generators, the county is also installing 15,000 square feet of solar panels at the plant, on top of buildings and on the roof of a new carport. The solar-panel array will produce 287,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity for the plant each year, which will save $22,900 in power costs, according to the county.
The solar panels will offset the greenhouse gases created by the generators by more than 150 percent.
"This is the future of our public infrastructure in Maryland," Ulman said in a statement. "Sandy was a wake-up call, and in Howard County we have answered the bell. We are taking concrete steps to prepare for emergencies and to protect the environment."
The solar panels are expected to be operational by February of next year. The generators will be ready to go by September 2014.
The Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant is the fifth largest in the state and serves 56 percent of Howard County's population, including the towns of Columbia, Savage and North Laurel. The plant treats an average of 19 million gallons per day on dry days, and can treat more than 50 million gallons per day when it rains.