Art Commission talks about streetscapes, hears about co-gen

The Philadelphia Art Commission Wednesday heard about and approved plans for dramatic streetscaping that will help reinvigorate North Broad Street.

The commission also checked off on details concerning an “extremely green” venture by the Philadelphia Municipal Authority (read Philadelphia Water Department) to develop and operate a cogeneration system using digester gas (read methane) as the primary fuel at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant at 3899 Richmond Street.

The Avenue of the Arts, Inc. concept includes 55-foot tall light masts on North Broad Street that will anchor streetscape plantings designed to increase cover, context and a green screen thanks to the planting of  285 trees. The improvements represent  the kickoff for a $50 million instill more street life on North Broad.

The commissioners felt the light masts (there was an installation of the full-scale lightmast mock-up on Temple’s campus in September) are more dramatic and less “telephone pole like” at night vs. day but unanimously approved the plan.

It should noted that AAI was formed in 1993 to encourage economic and cultural development along North and South Broad Street. Its work has facilitated the growth of a dynamic corridor with over $1 billion in investment, over 20 residential projects, 8 hotels, 20 performance venues, 50 cultural organizations, over 10,000 parking spaces and more than 40 restaurants with over 2 million patrons. Monthly meetings with City departments, PennDOT, SEPTA and others continue as AAI obtains the drawings, approvals and notices needed to keep the project moving forward throughout the entire North Broad corridor.

The Philadelphia Art Commission, Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC) and Fairmount Park Commission have favorably reviewed and commented on the North Broad Initiative. PHC Executive Director John Farnham noted, “The project will improve the area, better linking the historic sites to one another and the North Broad Street area to Center City.”

Now, on the methane and co-gen.

The Philadelphia Water Department is pitching a years-in-the-making, 5.6 megawatt biogas cogeneration facility at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant. When operational, the biogas produced there could save some $2.5 million of the department’s $18.1 million energy bill. The project, which is currently winding its way through city council, would also reduce carbon emission by nearly 22,000 tons per year. The unique partnership between the city, a third party developer and a lending institution qualifies the parties to obtain a $12 million grant made possible through the American Recovery and Investment Act. The main issue with the arrangement concerns timing. In order to qualify for the grant funding the project has to get shovels in the ground no later than Dec. 31.

A key objective for the development of the Facility is the elimination of the flaring of waste gas. The four-engine facility will have the capacity to create 43 million kilohours of electricity.

Read more about the venture in BioCycle Magazine

The electrical power and the thermal hot water generated by the facility will be used in its entirety by the Northeast WPC Plant. Under the terms of a facility lease the city will own both the electrical output and thermal output of the plant, will have two incoming fuel sources: digester gas, which is generated at the Northeast WPC Plant, and natural gas purchased from or through the Philadelphia Gas Works. The natural gas supply will be used to optimize generator performance and is supplemental only.

According to the legislation in city council, Ameresco, Inc.,  a leading independent provider of comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions for similar facilities throughout North America, will construct the facility. The total plant  cost will be approximately $47 million and the facility is currently expected to be completed on or around January 2013. The lease will have a 16-year term under which the City would have both an early buyout option  and the right to purchase the plant at the end of the term.

Commisioners approved the plan with the proviso that the “one percent for public art” statute, making the commissioning of new works of public art integral to the urban renewal process, be considered by the city as it proceeds with the project.

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