Fat and grease will soon turn into a source of electrical power for Santa Barbara thanks to a new waste management plan.

The city is planning to collect used oils from restaurant kitchens and convert them into methane at local treatment plants, using the gas for heat and power. Up to 5,000 gallons of grease will be gathered per day. City energy analyst Alelia Parenteau said waste managers will use giant machines called digesters to process the fat.

“The digestion process is a lot like the human stomach,” Parenteau said. “Grease goes inside and anaerobic bacteria breaks down the grease and releases methane.”

Santa Barbara City has traditionally disposed of grease by hauling it to Los Angeles or the Central Valley, where oil is used for agricultural purposes. By diverting fats to a local plant, the city estimates it will generate 4,500 kilowatts of electricity each day.

City wastewater manager Chris Toth said El Estero wastewater treatment plant would house digesters, making the facility more self-sufficient.

“By generating more methane gas in the digesters, we will ultimately reduce our need for external electricity,” Toth said.

The city has hired a private engineering firm from Ventura to design the new project, which will cost an estimated $400,000. Recycled grease is expected to generate $100,000 annually.

Mayor Helene Schneider said she supports the project, which was approved unanimously as a two-year pilot program by the city council.

“We are all very curious to see how it can save some business money, so everyone seems pretty happy about the decision,” Schneider said.

Toth said he fully expects the program to save money for both the treatment plant and the restaurants involved.

“Allowing restaurants a local option to beneficially use their waste product will cut their costs,” Toth said.