Friday, June 06, 2008
4 dairies to join manure
Power-generation facility designed to involve
Friday, June 06,
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.
|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
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
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
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
The brothers plan to start building the digester this summer
or fall and to have it operating by the end of the year.
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
The digester will be fed with 90,000 gallons of manure a
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
"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
The two farms piping the manure to the lagoon typically
spend $150,000 per year on bedding between them.
to produce green power is a plus, Daryl said, what's driving this
arrangement with Puget Sound Energy is the price of power.
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.
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.
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
Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley,
Wash. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.