Using `Expert Panels` to Reduce Expansion Costs and Optimize Operations

JEA is a regional utility serving Northeast Florida providing electric, water, wastewater and chilled water services to approximately 900,000 accounts. JEA owns and operates 5 regional and 10 local water reclamation facilities, 40 water treatment facilities and over 1,200 wastewater lift stations in four counties. Northeast Florida is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. JEA is facing major expansion costs to support this growth. In addition, the region also contains the St. Johns River which has been classified as a heritage river. With the potential for increasingly stringent regulations associated with the establishment of Total Mass Daily Loadings (TMDL), JEA was also facing major costs in order to reduce nutrient discharges to the St. Johns River. Both of these issues required innovative thinking to develop effective and efficient programs. In a proactive fashion, JEA chose to implement a proactive goal of reducing nitrogen discharged to the St. Johns River by 50 percent. This program was named the “BNR Initiative”.

Past practice would have been to retain individual consulting engineering firms to develop plant expansion and upgrade approaches for each plant. The approach followed for each facility would not have been consistent, and the potential for drastically different results would have been great. Instead, it was decided to form an integrated team consisting of JEA engineering, management and operations staff, along with key representatives from selected consulting engineering firms. Each firm had expertise with wastewater treatment process optimization and could also bring the full range of technical and production resources from their parent organizations to focus on cost-effective solutions for the expansion and upgrade of the JEA regional water reclamation facilities that discharge to the St. Johns River.

JEA had used the traditional process to develop a master plan to identify modifications required at the four regional water reclamation facilities to achieve biological nutrient removal (BNR) to reduce the amount of nitrogen discharged to the St. Johns River. The identified improvements relied heavily on traditional treatment approaches such as denitrification filters. In order to achieve the nitrogen removal goal and the required expanded capacity, an estimated $125 million dollars of new construction would be required.

JEA decided to bring in five wastewater treatment process experts to review the plan and to determine if a more efficient method of doing the work was available. The methodology that was followed for this program allowed JEA to save over $90 million dollars, and to achieve the nitrogen removal goals. The cost of improvements will be approximately $32.5 million dollars versus the initial estimate of $125 million dollars.

Another program that was being faced with extreme growth related pressures was the biosolids management system. JEA relies on a centralized approach to managing biosolids, with the centralized anaerobic digestion and thermal drying system being located at the Buckman Water Reclamation Facility. Biosolids generated at the other JEA water reclamation facilities are transported via trucking or pumping to the centralized biosolids facility for final treatment and
disposal as dry pellets. Based on planning information used to develop this facility, capacity for an additional 10 to 15 years should have been available, but the actual operational data was showing that the facility had effectively reached design capacity. Expansion of this facility would pose extreme financial problems since funding for additional biosolids handling facilities was not planned for at least 10 years.

Based on the success of the BNR Initiative Program, JEA procured the services of experts in wastewater residuals processing to develop short and long-term solutions to alleviate overloading at the centralized thermal drying system. The initial work of this group led JEA to some short term changes at the facility that have already provided additional capacity. This capacity increase has allowed JEA to delay future expansion work, thus allowing more time for the
development of a thorough improvement and expansion program with the input from the expert team. The recommendations from the residuals management expert team will save JEA over $10 million dollars over a five year period.

Based on the success of both of these programs, JEA has determined that the use of a team of experts for the planning and development of comprehensive process optimization programs is an economical approach for complex treatment systems. This paper will cover the steps used to procure and utilize the service of a team of experts to develop an optimization program including:

  1. Team Selection - Procuring expert services through an RFP process.
  2. Management of Expectations - Convincing Engineering firms that the process is in their best interest, and methods for maintaining an atmosphere of teamwork.
  3. Facilitation - Utilization of meeting facilitators, and maintaining focus by developing agendas for workshops.
  4. Documentation - Development of Preliminary Design Reports (PDRs) and the approval process by the team of experts.
  5. Implementation - Utilizing the PDRs in the design phase of improvements, and maintaining communication to ensure that improvements are implemented as intended.

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