Could taking heat from sewage be the future for Interbay?

A Seattle firm says this energy source could spur greater growth in the area

 The Freehold Group bought their first building in Interbay in 1998 and have long been one of the area’s strongest proponents. 

Now, they are advocating what some might see as a radical idea to help Interbay continue to grow and prosper. 

Members of the development group have a dream that the area between Queen Anne and Magnolia could grow into a mini metropolis. The secret to development, they say, is finding a cheap source of heat and they think it is right under their feet.

They want to heat buildings with the warmth from effluent, tapping into the city's large sewage pipe that runs underground right through the neighborhood and extracting the energy with heat pumps.

"As humans we tend to limit what we see as possible," Jeffrey M. Thompson, a partner in the firm, explained. "As developers and investors we are interested in what makes a real community, a successful community...we're not necessarily interested in making what the last person made." 

Thompson said the 8-foot in diameter sewage pipe could be a key to uniting the neighborhood and heating it efficiently and economically.

Basically, Thompson is proposing to use a heat pump to transfer the heat energy from the effluent water to an enclosed water system that can be used to heat buildings or homes. The effluent never mixes with the water used for heating the buildings. Clean hot water is pumped through the building pipes.

Thompson said the process for heating water from effluent is not only more efficient, but it is clean, safe and much more efficient. 

"Buildings consume 40 percent of all the energy we use. [They] have a bigger effect than cars and other things...We went back and looked at buildings (built) 10 to 20 years ago and we couldn't discern much difference (between these buildings) from old buildings. More glass has been added but it's not necessarily more efficiency," Thompson said.

The idea might sound strange, but it isn’t new. This concept of using the natural heat from sewage has already been developed and used in various places. Systems in Oslo, Norway and Tokyo, Japan use sewage to heat buildings. 

Our neighbors to the north are already on the effluent as heat and power bandwagon. Vancouver and Whistler put in systems for extracting heat from effluent to prepare for the 2010 Winter Olympics, an event which turned out to be a big success and a huge public relations boost for the allegedly stodgy Canadians. And everybody visiting Whistler stayed warm and healthy.

"Their system was the first in North America," Thompson said.

Thompson said erroneous perceptions about the system stinking or being unhealthy might be one reason people aren't talking about this concept despite its proven successes in other, possibly more progressive locales like Norway, Japan, Canada and Denmark.

"Solar attracts billions of dollars (in grants and research). It's an easier sell. It's sexier," he said. In other words sun is not garbage.

But Thompson and Freehold are convinced their new (for this area) idea is an eventual winner.

"Anything only has value to us when we distribute it and use it and, in essence, sell it as a substitute for electricity," he explained.

When asked why Americans seemed to be behind in this area too, Thompson said some of it was simple geography. Denmark, for example has gone from 90 percent dependent on oil to just 10 percent dependent on fossil fuels in just the last 20 years or so, according to Thompson.

"They are a more homogenous culture with a commonly shared value system. They are using everything including solar, wind and district systems," Thompson said.

And he and his partners strongly believe a local version of the Danish success at loosening the shackles of energy dependency is in Interbay's near future.

"We're working with the city and the county," Thompson said.

The plan is to run loops inside the park, immediately north of Interbay Golf Course, where the large sewage pipe is only buried eight foot underground. Thompson displayed drawings of pipes that will extract the heat, cleanly and efficiently from the effluent flowing constantly out toward the sewage treatment facility at the far end of Magnolia at West Point. The city and county are planning to work on the pipe (relining it) in 2013 and that's when the Freehold Group plans to begin developing their heating system. It would be a cost savings from the beginning because they can dig in conjunction with already planned repairs and updates.

Interbay is the right location to try something new, Thompson said, because so much expected development has yet to be done.

"If I went to Ballard it's all electric resistance heat. We can't help them. But Interbay is all about a new place. Development can go hand in hand with this new system," he said.

And, if Thompson and his partners are correct, the area will use 80 percent less electricity and there will be a 75 percent reduction in greenhouse gases. 

"This is doable, very doable. And it can all be done with private funding as well. By looking at the whole picture we can create real benefits about how density really works," he said. "We want to look at the world in new ways. This process is far more efficient than gas or coal and by looking at the whole picture, with an open mind, we can create far greater efficiency through conservation." and the use of existing resources." 


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