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Backers celebrate dairy digester project
|Skagit County, Wash., dairy farmers Eric Vander Kooy, left, and Gerritt Kuipers Jr. prepare to help with the groundbreaking for Farm Power Northwest's anaerobic manure digester. The Vander Kooy's farm and the Kuipers' farm will pipe manure to the digester, which will produce enough electricity to supply 500 homes with power.|
Construction begins on $3.5 million multi-farm manure digester facility
MOUNT VERNON, Wash. - Standing on a stage made of straw bales, facing a jubilant audience of about 100 people, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., gave a rousing cheer for the groundbreaking of a new $3.5 million anaerobic dairy manure digester that will produce enough electricity for 500 homes.
"We've got the money. We've got the manure. Now let's make some power," he said as the crowd cheered.
The money the congressman was referring to includes a $500,000 grant from the state, a $500,000 grant from the USDA, and a $2.14 million loan from Shorebank Pacific, backed by USDA loan guarantees.
Larsen told the crowd that renewable energy projects such as this are critical to the country's economy - not just Skagit County's.
Kevin and Daryl Maas, owners of Farm Power Northwest LLC, plan to have the digester up and running by June.
What sets this project apart from other manure digesters is its focus on a system that uses manure from several farms instead of just one farm, thus allowing smaller dairies to get into the game.
Farm Power will build, fund, and operate the manure digester on three acres of land leased from Skagit County dairy farmer Gerritt Kuipers.
The Kuipers' dairy and the nearby Vander Kooy dairy will only need to supply the pumps and piping to get the manure to the digester.
The farms will also benefit because once the methane is extracted from the manure, they'll be able to apply the nutrient-rich liquid manure to their fields. In addition, they'll be able to use one of the fiber byproducts of the process as sterile bedding for their cows.
As he welcomed the crowd, Kevin Maas praised the farmers who made the project a reality.
"The farmers believed in this project," he said. "Without their support, we wouldn't be here now."
Daryl Maas explained that one of the goals of the innovative project is to help preserve family farms.
"We want to protect our farms," he said. "We want them to be here."
The project, which will be built by Ferndale, Wash.-based Andgar Corp., will consist of a heated concrete holding tank, where bacteria converts part of the manure into a methane-rich gas. Burning the gas will power a nearby generator, and the electricity created will be sold to the grid. Farm Power and Puget Sound Energy have signed an agreement for the company to buy the power produced by the digester.
Taking her turn on the straw-bale stage, Rep. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, described the project as "the future."
"It provides a way for dairies to stay here and produce energy," she said. "This is huge."
Gov. Chris Gregoire's husband, Mike Gregoire, praised the project, saying it meets the needs of smaller farms that can't afford a manure digester.
He also conveyed the governor's belief that the project fits in with statewide goals that include sustainable agriculture, green collar jobs, and reducing global warming.
Adding a note of humorous historical perspective to the event, Andy Wappler of Puget Sound and Energy described the two entrepreneurial brothers as "the Bill Gates and Henry Ford of the future of manure."
As Gerritt Kuipers Jr. stood holding a shovel just before the groundbreaking began, he praised the project's focus on renewable energy.
"It's environmentally friendly, and it makes a lot of sense for us and the future of farming," he said.
Taking a similar tack, Peter Moulton, bioenergy coordinator with the state's Community Trade and Economic Development Department, said that several years ago, it was hard to pencil out a project like this.
"Now they're doing it," he said, pointing out that smaller digesters can serve areas on an independent basis while adding value to the agricultural community.
For Jeff Canaan, bioenergy coordinator for the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the project demonstrates the value of agriculture in ways other than producing food.
"There's no competition between this project and food production," he said. "It shows the potential agriculture has to benefit the community and the environment."
In an interview after the event, Kevin Maas said he and his brother would like to start similar projects.
"Once we get this one under way, we'll be looking at other possible sites," he said.
Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.