Grand County School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Crane, left, joined dignitaries to celebrate the official opening of Grand County High School's new cogeneration power plant, which generates power from waste vegetable oil. Rocky Mountain Power Vice President of Engineering Services and Asset Management Doug Bennion, second from left, is also pictured with TRANE District Controls Account Manager Jeremy Kerr, TRANE Rocky Mountain District Sales Manager Mike Anderson, Grand County Board of Education President Beth Joseph, Grand County Board of Education member Jim Webster and Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison. [Courtesy photo]

When the air conditioning starts up and the lights come on at Grand County High School, students’ educational experience is improved. Now, the building’s energy efficiency will improve, as well, as a new power generation plant fueled by spent cooking oil from local restaurants will supplement the power required to run a modern high school.

On Thursday, May 19, community members joined those who helped bring the project to fruition by “flipping the switch” on a 60-kilowatt cogeneration plant at the school. Unique in how it was envisioned and funded, the plant was the result of determined problem-solving and collaboration, Grand County Board of Education President Beth Joseph said.

“Only in Moab would the engineer say, ‘You know this hasn’t been done before in the States? You know we’re going to have to bring in really big equipment from Belgium?’ and the school board say, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’” Joseph said during a ceremony to celebrate the new plant. “We here today embody the spirit of creativity and innovation that makes this community what it is.”

Grand County High School already supplements its power with energy from solar photovoltaic panels.

For its latest renewable energy project, however, the district sought to decrease its overall energy bill by decreasing its “peak load,” the largest amount of power it pulls from the grid at any given time during the month.

Solar alone wasn’t the solution because peak loads can happen at night and on cloudy days, Grand County School Superintendent Scott Crane said.

The new generator captures waste heat and is expected to provide about 45 percent of the high school’s energy needs, leading to an estimated savings of $20,000 to $25,000 per year. Eventually, the school district hopes to expand the project to a 150-megawatt facility, which could save an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 in energy costs each year.

“This project accomplishes two very important things,” Crane said. “One: we’re making use of waste vegetable oil generated by our restaurants, and keeping it out of the sewage system; two: we’re saving a lot of money with very little resource use. This plant is only powered up to keep peak power down.”

Five years beforehand, district and school board leaders met with Rocky Mountain Power officials and consultants from national heating and cooling company TRANE to discuss ways to improve their facilities’ efficiency and lower energy costs over time. When somebody mentioned that one resource the town had no shortage of – besides sun – was tourists, a lightbulb went off, Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson Paul Murphy said.

The next step was a feasibility study to determine whether Moab’s restaurants could indeed produce enough waste vegetable oil to fuel the new plant. What followed was an international best practices search that landed the team in Belgium, where the most advanced appropriate technology for the size and scope of the biofuel plant was found.

In the future, Grand County High School students will have a unique educational opportunity to work on and maintain the plant, which was funded with the help of Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Program customers.

Under the program, the utility’s Blue Sky customers pay as little as $1.95 per month to support the development of renewable energy projects around the state. For the high school’s plant, they contributed $125,000.

It was an amazing project, Rocky Mountain Power Vice President of Engineering Services and Asset Management Doug Bennion said.

“In terms of collaboration and innovation, it is monumental for Rocky Mountain Power and the Grand County School District,” Bennion said.

Local agricultural company Bonneville Livestock will gather the spent grease and filter out waste, which will be fed to its livestock. It will then deliver the fuel-grade oil to the school for use in the plant. Heat from the plant will be captured to supplement the natural gas boilers, which heat water for the school, as well.

The cogeneration plant is one of seven Blue Sky community projects in Moab. The most recent Blue Sky award in Moab will be used to add 25 additional kilowatts of solar to Moab City Center.

Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison said in a statement that he’s pleased to see the school district take advantage of the technology, and that Rocky Mountain Power embraced the high school’s project.

“This is an innovative renewable source of energy that could be a model for others,” Sakrison said. “This project prevents ‘spent’ grease from local restaurants from going to our sewer plant, which has caused issues with our collection system and the plant itself.”

Moab City Council member Heila Ershadi called the project a “fantastic example” of turning trash into treasure.

“I’m sure this model of energy production will teach and inspire Grand County students, the community and beyond about diverse, clean and less-expensive energy sources,” she said.

To learn more about Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Program, go to

GCHS powers up new vegetable oil-fueled cogeneration plant

We here today embody the spirit of creativity and innovation that makes this community what it is.