Big digester comes with no price tag
Outside firms eager to invest in clean energy, carbon credits
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
LINCOLN COUNTY, Idaho -- Brothers Donnie and Ronnie Aardema now have the largest manure-based digester in the country on their Double A Dairy in Lincoln County.
And they didn't have to invest a dime.
The $21.5 million digester is owned by Camco International, a clean energy company in the business of reducing emissions and creating carbon credits. Its partner, AgPower Group, provided development, finance, consulting and construction services for the digester. Andgar Corp. built and operates the facility.
Double A Dairy is the host farm for the digester, leasing 10 acres to AgPower, and will share in the sale of the energy produced from methane gas.
Digesters aren't new in the dairy industry, but this type of business model and successfully bringing the project to fruition is, said Andrew Jackura, senior vice president of Camco.
Camco has a permit for another digester project in California but the digester at Double A is its first to be operational.
"Our goal is to build more of these," he said.
The digester's manure-handling capacity is for 15,000 cows. Double A has 12,500 milking cows and the Aardemas plan to use manure from other dairies.
The project has created a fully sustainable ag operation, AgPower's Ted Sniegocki said.
The digester puts through half a million gallons of effluent a day and produces a dry and odorless fiber that can be used for cow bedding and landscaping. Nutrient-rich water from the process can be used to irrigate and fertilize crops.
The 4.5 kilowatt-hours of energy produced is enough to supply 3,500 residential homes 24 hours a day every day, he said.
The project has a 20-year contract with Idaho Power and has been producing power for two months.
"A lot of people came together to collaborate on something positive," said Wally Hedrick, Idaho director of USDA Rural Development.
It's turning effluent that could potentially contaminate groundwater into energy and creating jobs, he said. It's a clean industry and is good for the dairy's neighbors and the rest of the dairy industry, she said.
The project received a $500,000 grant through USDA's Rural Energy for America Program.
With the size of their dairy, the Aardemas were looking for a way to manage manure more efficiently.
"It's been a great thing for our dairy," Donnie Aardema said.
The dry product is easier to handle and the water coming from the lanes can be recycled through the dairy and used as fertilizer for the crops. It also helps with the dairy's nutrient management plan, he said.
The project started in 2008, and construction began in November of 2010.
Financing takes a long time, but working with AgPower Group was a positive experience, he said.
"I think this is the model for success for digesters that's going to be used in the future," he said.
"It's a strong win-win business model," Sniegocki said.
The digester is a source of income, reduces expenses on the dairy and dairymen aren't burdened with the financing, construction and operation of the digester or the energy-purchasing agreement, he said.