The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a new $1.4 million contract with Tucson Electric Power to run the Ina Road sewer plant.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a one-year contract, but not before Supervisor Richard Elías raised a stink on behalf of ratepayers.
The new plant needs more energy, through a new power plant, through buying power, or both, said wastewater director Jackson Jenkins.
The county decided to buy more power, but at a better price, he said. The county is switching to a new rate tier at TEP, which will save $360,000 a year over the current rate, Jenkins said.
Board Chair Ramón Valadez asked that the rate be reviewed again before any contract renewals.
Maya Castillo, president of SEIU Arizona Local 48, asked the board to explore other options, including using methane produced at the plant to help power the center, decreasing the need to buy power.
"Do not leave sewer ratepayers at the mercy of the electric company and ever-increasing rates," she told the board.
Elías questioned how purchasing TEP power meets the goals of the county's Sustainable Action Plan, which calls for "maximizing renewable energy resources from the production of methane in county wastewater treatment and landfill operations and use them to offset nonrenewable energy needs."
"So here we are with an item in front of us that does the exact opposite," Elías said.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the TEP contract "should in no way should be viewed as backtracking from our sustainability commitments."
The methane issue is complicated, he said, but the county studied what to do with the gas and has decided to try selling it.
The county has issued a request for proposals for a contractor that would design, build, finance, own and operate the methane part of the plant, Jenkins said.
The gas could be sold on the market and the revenue could be used to offset the cost of operating the plant, he said.
The gas also could be used to power the county-owned compressed natural gas vehicles.
Contact reporter Becky Pallack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.