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home : • news : DAIRY Saturday, September 20, 2008

9/12/2008 6:00:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article
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Daryl Maas, left, and his brother Kevin, founders of Farm Power Northwest LLC, stand earlier this year beside a dairy manure lagoon that will supply manure to a anaerobic digester they plan to build 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.
Multi-farm digester gains funding
Brothers secure grants, investors to build $4.5 million methane facility

Cookson Beecher
Capital Press

Brothers and owners of Farm Power Northwest LLC, Kevin and Daryl Maas, have received good financial news from the USDA about an anaerobic dairy methane digester they plan to build in Washington state's Skagit County.

The company has received a $500,000 grant from the agency's Rural Development program, as well as a USDA $575,00 loan guarantee. The loan will allow Farm Power to obtain USDA-backed loans for the project. Earlier this year, Farm Power received another $500,000 grant from the state.

In addition to the grant money, the brothers have been raising funds from private investors.

Daryl Maas said the new funding means they can complete their financing package for the project, which is expected to break ground on Beaver Marsh Road near Mount Vernon in October. The goal is to have it up and running by next year.

"It's great news," Daryl Maas said. "It's what we've been hoping for."

The digester will turn manure from two neighboring farms - and perhaps several more later on - into enough electricity to supply 500 to 1,000 homes.

The manure from the two dairies will be piped directly to the digester, which will be built on land leased from Ska-git County dairy farmer Gerritt Kuipers Jr.

The project will consist of a heated concrete holding tank, where bacteria will convert part of the manure into a methane-rich gas. Burning the gas will power a generator, which will supply electricity to the grid.

Puget Sound Energy and Farm Power have signed an agreement that the power company will buy the associated renewable energy credits resulting from the energy source.

In an earlier interview with Capital Press, Kevin Maas said he and his brother see this as just the beginning of a long-term source of renewable energy and additional income for local dairies.

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. Daryl Maas said the benefit of this approach is that it allows smaller dairies to get into the game. In contrast, a digester built for just one farm would require more manure than a smaller-scale farm could supply, not to mention the $4.5 million it would take to build a digester.

"In Western Washington, the approach we're using is essential because most of the dairies are not big enough to build a digester on this scale," he said. Another plus is that a single farm is not shouldering all the risk.

Farm Power will fund the project. The farmers, in turn, only need to supply the pumps and piping to get the manure to the digester.

One of the end products of the process will be a liquid manure the farmers can spread on their fields. It contains all of the nutrients of the original manure supplied to the digester. Because most of the methane has been extracted from the manure, the liquid fertilizer will have far less odor.

In addition, the two dairies involved in the project - Beaver Marsh Farms and Harmony Dairy - will get sterile bedding, a byproduct of the digestion process, at no cost.

The two farms typically spend a combined total of about $150,000 per year on bedding.

Daryl Maas said he thinks that one of the reasons Farm Power received the USDA grant is the project's "technical merit."

"I think Andgar's track record was a big factor," he said, pointing out that the Fendale, Wash.-based contractor that will build the project has already built two manure digesters in Washington state and has several more under construction.

He also thinks the agency may have liked the idea of building a digester for multiple farms.

"We see this as a way of sustaining dairy farms in Western Washington," he said. "This way, they don't have to invest money in the project and yet they can get the benefits from it."

The two brothers believe that for a project like this to work, it's important to have an entity like Farm Power develop the project and assume the risk.

With an eye to the future, the brothers are hoping the project will serve as a model for dairies in the Puget Sound area as well as in other similar regions of the country.

Eventually, they would like to set up similar projects in other parts of Skagit County and northwest Washington.

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


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