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The Great Lakes Water Utility Energy Challenge Comes to a Close!

Back in April 2017, five water utility systems in the Great Lakes region embarked on a utility Olympics of
sorts, a one-year contest to reduce energy-related pollution emissions, especially mercury. Called the
Great Lakes Water Utility Energy Challenge (WUEC), the competition was funded by the Great Lakes
Protection Fund, a private, nonprofit that supports programs that improve the health of the Great Lakes
ecosystem. The American Water Works Association in cooperation with Wayne State University, Energy
Emissions Intelligence, Growth Capital Network, CDM Smith and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities
Initiative all provided project management and technical assistance.
Five candidate utilities were selected as finalists: the city of Highland Park in Illinois, the City of Bayfield in
Wisconsin, The City of Ann Arbor in Michigan, the Great Lakes Water Authority, and OCWA, central New
York’s water authority. They were chosen from a broad field of applicants and these five utility leaders
represent a wide range of communities, from Bayfield, Wisconsin, which serves fewer than 1000
residents, to the Great Lakes Water Authority, which serves more than 4 million residents in 125
communities across southeast Michigan.

Competition Details
Throughout the challenge, competitors had an opportunity to use innovative technologies to monitor
pollution emissions and optimize their systems. The Locational Emissions Estimation Methodology (LEEM)
tool is a data service that employs a sophisticated system of databases and models to specify the marginal
power plant emissions attributed to energy use on a location-specific basis. In real-time, as well as forecast
24-hours in advance, LEEM provides the mechanism to link point of energy consumption to the point of
emission as well as to quantify and detail the composition of emissions. By modifying when and where
energy is used, a utility can shift its power demands from coal-fired power plants to natural gas, nuclear
or renewable sources. The second tool available to competitors was Polluting Emission Pump Station
Optimization (PEPSO). This modeling tool, developed by Wayne State University, integrates the LEEM
technology with a hydraulic model to optimize pump operation of water distribution systems for energy
and emission reduction.
Each finalist utility submitted required historical data for calculating a baseline scenario and then entered
the one-year period of the competition. During the competition, they reported their monthly energy
usage in the selected portion of their system. Their archived hourly energy usage data was used to develop
the baseline scenario. The archived energy usage values were multiplied by emission rate values (lb/kWh)
provided by LEEM historical reports, to calculate hourly emissions of five pollutants (Hg, CO2,.NOx, SO2,
Pb) for the baseline period. The daily pollution emission of each utility was calculated by adding the hourly
pollution emission of all energy consumption locations.

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Total Pollution Reduction and Benefits to Environment
The five participants’ monthly pollution reports were aggregated and compared to the historical baseline
scenario. The results are shown in the following table.

Total Amount Reduced House-Month Equivalents* Reduced

CO2 (lbs.) 1,504,069 1,692
NOx (lbs.) 535 2,745
SO2 (lbs.) 729 4,059
Hg (lbs.x10^-6) 10,019 2,896
Pb (lbs.x10^-6) 32,527 3,051
Energy Usage (MWh) 1,874 2,082
*One “House-Month Equivalent” is the average pollution emission or energy usage in a household during a single
month in the competition area.

A staggering amount of the five tracked pollutants, all of which are extremely harmful to the environment,
were reduced because of the novel application of emissions reductions technologies. Carbon dioxide
(CO2) accounts for around 80% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities and is a major
contributor to the deterioration of the ozone layer. Mercury (Hg) is a toxic poison that is especially
relevant to the health of the Great Lakes waters, as it accumulates in seafood and other substances in
nature, causing brain damage, nerve damage, and other health problems. Lead (Pb) can also lead to
dangerous health problems such as developmental problems for fetuses, lower IQ for children, and
increased blood pressure and cardiovascular problems for adults. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides
(NOx) lead to increased incidences of lung disease, viruses, and skin rashes, and also combine to create
smog and acid rain, which are harmful to the environment and humans.

The WUEC competition, which covered a wide geographic range of utilities across the entire Great Lakes
Basin as well as a mix of water and combined water/wastewater systems, illustrates that regardless of the
operation’s scale or location, utilities can use the cleanest energy to deliver clean, safe drinking water to
their customers and reduce overall pollution emissions. Indeed, the emissions reductions technologies
used can be applied not only to water utilities, but also to buildings, homes, and any device that is powered
by electricity from the grid.

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