Manure-powered methane digesters are working their way into economically viable dairy farm enterprises. Close to 30 are in place in Pennsylvania, alone, reports John Frey, executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence.
Now, a consortium of about 25 persons representing milk producers, the power grid, Chesapeake Bay Commission and state regulators are brainstorming in a Dairy Power Stackholders Group. Early this month, they met to discuss opportunities and obstacles to expanding renewable energy production.
With 540,000 dairy cows producing about 10.75 billion pounds of manure annually, on-farm biogas recovery presents a huge under-tapped resource of renewable energy for Pennsylvania, adds Frey. "Methane digesters offer the farm and community very tangible benefits, including odor control, improved water and air quality, improved nutrient management, and the opportunity to incorporate food waste and other substrate material."
The group's goal, he notes, is to "collectively 'move the needle' on profitable dairy-generated energy production in Pennsylvania." The latest meeting centered around regulatory, permitting and cost issues associated with on-farm methane energy production.
Learning from a leader
David Dunn, developer of Central Vermont Public Service's "Cow Power Initiative", shared how Vermont has linked farms, renewables and customers to expand on-farm methane energy production. "Cow Power, or methane energy production, was relatively easy to control and manage on our power grid system, providing a good 24-hour supply of energy. However, the initial investment on the farm was significant," he reported.
"Our community stepped up and committed to paying more for the 'Cow Power,' which provided farms with a new stream of revenue, our customers with a renewable energy choice, and us with tools to protect the environment," he said. "Some of our customers did it because it felt good. Others did it because it was good for their business. In the end, we liked it because it's supporting the fabric of Vermont by supporting local businesses."
"Cow Power" customers commit to paying a 4-cent premium for some or all of their electricity. They know that the four cents is paid directly to the farm.
Currently, the program produces energy for more than 3,000 customers. Farms produced more than 55,400,000 kWh of electricity for CVPS through May 2012 and received $2.2 million in premiums.
To learn more about "Cow Power" economics and Vermont's first farm to plug into the program, see the June cover and inside stories of American Agriculturist magazine. And check out the payback on a Pennsylvania dairy's digester on page 23. You'll also find them in the online version by clicking on AmAgonline .
For more information about the Pennsylvania Dairy Power Stakeholders Group, contact the Center for Dairy Excellence at 717-346-0849 or email@example.com.