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Friday, June 06, 2008

4 dairies to join manure digester project
Power-generation facility designed to involve smaller farms

Cookson Beecher
Capital Press

Friday, June 06, 2008

Daryl Maas, left, and his brother Kevin, founders of Farm Power Northwest LLC, stand beside a dairy manure lagoon that will supply manure to a anaerobic manure digester they’ll be building next to the lagoon. The project will also use manure from three other nearby farms to create enough power to supply 1,000 homes in the area with electricity.
MOUNT VERNON, Wash. - Two entrepreneurial brothers are planning to build an anaerobic manure digester that will turn manure from four neighboring dairy farms into enough electricity to supply 1,000 homes in the area.

Kevin Maas, 32, and Daryl Maas, 30, have founded Farm Power Northwest LLC to build, fund and operate the manure digester on three acres of land leased from Skagit County dairy farmer Gerritt Kuipers Jr.

Two of the dairies will pipe manure directly to the digester; manure from the other two will be trucked to the site.

The project, Farm Power Rexville, is the first of about five similar projects the brothers - neither of them farmers - would like to build and run. Their overall goal is to tap into a green-power source that could provide electricity to thousands of homes throughout the area.

In this first project, Kevin said, none of the farmers would be able to do this on their own. To begin with, individually they don't have enough cows for manure digester to pencil out. This project, for example, will rely on 2,500 cows for manure.

But the investment to build a digester is the biggest drawback for a farmer. This particular project is estimated to cost $4.5 million.

"The model we're pushing is a digester for multiple small farms," Kevin said, pointing out that the advantage to this approach is that it allows smaller farms to get into the game.

The brothers plan to start building the digester this summer or fall and to have it operating by the end of the year.

The project will consist of a heated concrete holding tank, where bacteria converts part of the manure into a methane-rich gas. Burning the gas will stoke a nearby power generator, and the power created will be sent to the grid.

The digester will be fed with 90,000 gallons of manure a day.

Useful end product

One of the end products of process will be a liquid manure that contains all of the nutrients of the original manure that the farmers will be able to spread on their fields.

Because the methane has been extracted from the manure, there will be far less odor.

Puget Sound Energy and Farm Power have signed an agreement in which the power company will buy the power produced by the digester for 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. It will also purchase the associated renewable energy credits resulting from the renewable energy source.

"Puget Sound Energy has been a great resource in taking our ideas one key step closer to reality," said Kevin. "We see this as just the beginning of a long-term source of renewable energy and of additional income to local dairies."

The two farms whose dairy manure will be piped to the digester will get sterile bedding, a byproduct of the digestion process, at no cost. The other two will be able to buy it for half-price.

The two farms piping the manure to the lagoon typically spend $150,000 per year on bedding between them.

While incentives to produce green power is a plus, Daryl said, what's driving this arrangement with Puget Sound Energy is the price of power.

Green incentive

As more and more people move to the area, the power company is going to have to boost the amount of power it can supply. To do that, it's either going to need to buy electricity on the open market from other utility companies, put in more wind farms or build new plants that will be run with natural gas.

The price of natural gas has gone up by at least 25 percent from last fall, Kevin said.

Then, too, transporting the power from places such as Eastern Washington, where the wind farms and natural gas plants would be built, is expensive and calls for infrastructure upgrades such as transmission towers.

Having power from a local source that will be used to supply nearby homes with electricity is a triple win for the power company, the dairy farmers and Farm Power, the brothers said.

Environmentally, the project has many benefits, including reducing the carbon footprint of the farms by eliminating the methane gas that escapes into the air when untreated manure is applied to the land.

The two brothers are especially pleased with the project because the dairy farmers who will be part of it are the "next generation" - young people who expect to be in dairying for a long time.

But perhaps the biggest benefit, said the two brothers, is that a project like this helps family farmers continue farming, thereby preserving farmland.

They'd like to build projects in other counties in Northwest Washington, but for now, getting this first project up and running is their first priority.

They have received a $500,000 grant from the state and are applying for a federal grant. They've also received a bank loan and are actively seeking investors.

Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. E-mail:

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