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Posted on: September 14, 2022

CFPUA sets 43 percent carbon reduction goal, wastewater plants win Gold awards

Bend in Cape Fear River

By 2030, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority aims to reduce carbon emissions from its operations by 43 percent.

At its regular meeting Wednesday, the CFPUA Board heard staff’s plan to cut the organization’s carbon footprint during the coming decade and approved the 43 percent reduction goal. Reducing CO2 emissions is a goal of CFPUA’s 2022 Strategic Plan.

The 43 percent reduction goal was selected as a midpoint between the 37 percent reduction goal in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star standards and the more aggressive 50 percent reduction goal recommended by the Paris Climate Agreement.

CFPUA’s carbon reduction goal is based on the total metric tons of CO2e per million gallons of wastewater treated (CO2e/MG). Cities, companies, and other organizations commonly standardize carbon emissions to measure operations' efficiency and optimization. CFPUA chose gallons of wastewater treated because it is the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions across the organization.

“As a coastal utility, CFPUA faces acute and long-term threats from climate change, including more frequent and intense storms and sea-level rise,” said Beth Eckert, CFPUA Deputy Director for Environmental Management and Sustainability. “Reducing our organization’s carbon footprint is important to protecting our environment, keeping operations sustainable, and reducing costs to CFPUA ratepayers.”

The baseline for CFPUA’s carbon reduction goal is 2019’s organization-wide emissions, which was 2.4 metric tons of CO2e/MG. This includes emissions associated with operating two water treatment plants, two wastewater treatment plants, the water distribution system, the wastewater collections system with over 150 pump stations, a vehicle fleet, and other components of CFPUA’s daily operations.

As of 2021, total emissions across CFPUA operations have already been cut to 1.9 metric tons of CO2e/MG, thanks in part to initiatives such as CFPUA’s low-emissions vehicle replacement program, the LED lightbulb replacement program, and projects to reduce inflow and infiltration (I&I) across the wastewater system. I&I occurs when stormwater or groundwater enters sewer infrastructure, increasing the amount of flow being collected and treated.

One recent I&I reduction project added proactive lining to a major sewer main near Burnt Mill Creek. Since that project was completed in 2021, carbon emissions were reduced by 296 metric tons per year by reducing the I&I volume that would have been treated otherwise. It also saves CFPUA ratepayers $635,000 per year in operating costs.

To reach the 43 percent reduction goal, CFPUA will continue to develop I&I-reduction projects, develop a carbon sink on CFPUA-owned property, and look for additional methods to reduce carbon use. Staff has also met with representatives from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to discuss carbon-reduction opportunities in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, CFPUA staff presented awards from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), recognizing CFPUA for outstanding wastewater treatment operations.

Both of CFPUA’s wastewater treatment facilities – the Northside Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant – received Gold Awards at NACWA’s 2022 Peak Performance Awards. The 2022 Peak Performance Awards reflect permit compliance for calendar year 2021 and the Gold Award specifically recognizes NACWA member facilities with no National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit violations for the entire calendar year.

CFPUA’s annual Wastewater System Performance Report is available at this link.