NILES - City council plans tonight to vote on whether to let a company study the feasibility of creating a "waste-to-energy" center here.
Mayor Ralph A. Infante said Niles has nothing to lose by allowing the study to go forward because the company, Hydra Renewable Resources Inc., plans to pay for the study.
"They came to us and said they'd pay for the whole works of the study," Infante said. "If it doesn't pan out, it won't cost the city anything."
The study also would include Warren and would investigate replacing the current wastewater treatment process with renewable resource technology.
In addition, Infante said HRRI has agreed to pay for Niles and Warren to hire its own team of engineers to go over the estimated $500,000 study once it is completed.
According to its website, the Canadian-based company provides municipal sewage and garbage processing, and creates renewable energy and recycled water.
Company representatives approached officials with Niles and Warren about four months ago.
"They just sort of ran down to us what they do," Infante said. "My main concern is the users, our customers. If we can save them on electric and if they can effectively recycle the wastewater, it could be a great tool. If they can do it with sludge and it saves us a ton of money, it could be a good thing."
Specific savings could come from many areas, according to Infante. While the option to privatize the city's wastewater system would be possible, if they did decide to go with HRRI, he'd prefer to lease the operations.
"That way, we'd have say over keeping our workers there and things like that," Infante said.
The city also could see savings from using the electricity produced at the site.
"If they would use the wastewater as a source of energy for the electric, we would tie that into our high line," Infante said. "Right now, we have to contract it out for something like 7 cents per kilowatt. I'd think we'd get a few pennies less per kilowatt through them."
Infante also noted potential savings in using HRRI's garbage processing system.
"They use the sludge and garbage materials that we produce and turn it into electric," Infante said. "That would save us fees associated with having to go to landfills.
"Now, they need to prove that to us, but that's what the study is about."
Infante expects a representative from HRRI at tonight's meeting, where council will vote on an emergency ordinance authorizing the study. He said the study may take as long as eight months to complete.
Meanwhile, John Nemet, Niles superintendent of water and wastewater, is suggesting city officials proceed with caution.
"I've done a little research on the firm," Nemet said. "I'm not sure there is a plant like this up and operating anywhere in the country. In my opinion, we should do some serious research before going forward on this. At the same time, I don't want to go head-to-head with the administration. They make the decisions on these issues."
Nemet cited similar HRRI projects that fell through in other municipalities, specifically one in Newmarket, N.H.
"They were presented this," he said. "They had an engineering firm look at the proposal. That firm had a bunch of questions that needed answered and the firm was unable to provide responses to their concerns. It was eventually shelved."
However, Tom Angelo, director of Warren's Water Pollution Control Department, explained that just because the new technology has not become popular in the United States does not mean it should automatically be ruled out.
"There are various forms of this concept active in Europe and the Pacific Rim," Angelo said. "The waste-to-energy centers have the potential of doing great things."
Angelo echoed Infante's position that since the company is footing the bill, there really is nothing to lose.
"At this point, it was difficult to see a bad side to going ahead with it," Angelo said. "The reality is, if they want to pay for the study, why not allow them to do it?"