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ESI IN THE POO, page-2

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    Sewage has $30m stink

    By Michael Southwell

    A NEW sewage treatment plant which cost WA taxpayers $30 million does not work as promised and has been partly shut.

    The Enersludge plant at the Water Corporation's Shenton Park wastewater facility was touted as a green alternative to existing sewage treatment, promising to convert dried sewage sludge to oil, which would be used to power the plant's diesel electricity generators.

    But the quality of the oil produced by the plant is too poor to be used in generators. So the sludge-to-oil converter has been shut after less than four months of full operation.

    Dried sewage pellets produced in the early stages of the process are being taken by truck to be spread on a farm in Moora as fertiliser.

    Some of the partly dried sludge produced by the process is dumped in a landfill site at Cardup, near Byford.

    Trucking the pellets and sludge off-site costs more than $200,000 a year.

    In 1996, the Court government accepted a tender from Environmental Solutions International to supply the Enersludge plant, which was built by Clough Engineering.

    ESI managing director Denis Glennon is a member of the Environmental Protection Authority. The process was expected to generate savings for the Water Corporation of about $700,000 a year from power generation and was due to be operational by 1998.

    But technical problems delayed the project and the first stages were not completed until December 2000, with the sludge-to-oil converter commissioned in April last year. The converter was not fully operational until July and was shut by November.

    Water Corporation wastewater general manager Keith Cadee admitted the converter had not produced the expected results but said the rest of the plant was working as expected. The converter had cost $2.3 million.

    Mr Glennon said the problem was that the oil contained high levels of solids and water, which made it unsuitable for diesel engines.

    Work was proceeding on a process to further refine the oil and on finding an alternative fuel engine which would run on the oil to generate electricity.

    He expected these additions to cost no more than $250,000, and said ESI would fund the extra equipment required.

    "This notion of the plant not working is a narrow view. The bulk of the plant, 90 per cent of it, works and is working," Mr Glennon said.

    WA Conservation Council vice-president Sue Graham-Taylor said the Water Corporation should have kept the community informed about problems with the sludge-to-oil project, which was widely promoted in its early stages.

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