Moab is well known for its red rocks, nearby national parks, and a large variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. However, the small town has also been recognized for their forward thinking. The city was named the EPA’s first Green Power Community in the nation in 2004, and earlier this year, the Grand County School District flipped the switch on a unique alternative energy project.
The Waste Vegetable Oil Cogeneration Project, located at Grand County High School, was recently recognized at the Governor’s Excellence in Energy Awards and selected as one of three finalists for the Governor’s Energy Innovator of the Year Award. TRANE, Inc, also presented the School District with an Innovation and Energy Efficiency Award.
The idea for the project was born more than three years ago, when the district began to look for alternative energy opportunities that would allow them to cut energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Though they considered an array of solar panels, they quickly determined that solar energy would not allow the kind of on-demand power that the district was looking for.
With the help from an engineer with Trane, Inc. the school district began to form a plan: a waste vegetable oil cogeneration plant that would run on the used fryer oil from restaurants around the city. The project, a 60-kilowatt generator, creates an on-demand power source that can be turned on whenever necessary to help keep the energy bills at the high school lower. The district estimates that the project will save $20,000 - $25,000 each year.
“This is a very green solution to the issue of waste vegetable oil that will benefit the community and the schools in a symbiotic relationship," said Grand County School Superintendent Dr. Scott Crane.
Though the technology is popular in Europe, it is not widely used in the United States. Dr. Crane said that he believes that the Grand County School District is the first public school district in the country to utilize the technology.
The project was made possible thanks to a Blue Sky Grant from Rocky Mountain Power, and several local donors.
“This is a groundbreaking project that takes waste and makes it useful again. It also demonstrates to students and community members how this exciting new technology protects the environment,” said Doug Bennion, vice-president of Rocky Mountain Power engineering services and asset management.
Beyond the economic benefits to the school district, the project also provides educational opportunities. Students at GCHS will eventually be able to work on and maintain the cogenerator. It also serves as an example of the kind of unique thinking that can be accomplished when people choose not to settle for the status quo.
"Big kudos to the school district and all who have made this project a reality. It's a fantastic example of turning trash into treasure,” said Moab City Councilmember Heila Ershadi. “I'm sure this model of energy production will teach and inspire Grand County students, the community and beyond about diverse, clean and less expensive energy sources."
In addition to reducing the district’s carbon footprint, the project also provides an avenue for the used fryer oil to help keep it out of the city’s sewer system: an issue that has caused problems for Moab in the past.
"I am very pleased to see the school district took advantage of this new technology and Rocky Mountain Power saw the benefit for the project,” said Moab City Mayor Dave Sakrison. “This is an innovative renewable source of energy that could be a model for others. This project prevents ‘spent’ grease from local restaurants from going to our sewer plant which has caused issues with our collection system and the plant itself."
The district hopes to eventually increase the size of the plant from 60-kilowatts to 150-kilowatts, a move that would save the district approximately $50,000 to $60,000 each year.