Dairies get their manure together
Local producers, international companies cooperate in digester project
By STEVE BROWN
ENUMCLAW, Wash. -- The anaerobic digester will be a new feature in rural King County, but the neighbors have been talking about it for the past 10 years.
About 20 family dairies surround the planned site, none of them large enough to feed a digester by itself. Three dairies are involved, with at least one other considering it.
Construction will begin this summer.
"There's a community aspect to this," dairyman Brian DeGroot said. "All these dairies concentrated in one area, there's no one else like this. We've been talking about a digester a good 10 years."
The digester will be built on the Ritter Dairy, just across the road from DeGroot's 350-cow operation. Manure from his cows will be pumped to the site; trucks will bring manure from other dairies.
Justin Davis, of Farm Power Northwest LLC, is project manager for the Rainier Farm Biogas Project. He said the digester will capture methane to produce electricity in a 1-megawatt generator, which will sell it to the region's electrical grid.
"Puget Sound Energy has been really good about the power-purchase agreement," Davis said. "They want renewable sources like this."
Also, he said, there has been no problem getting neighbors to agree to the project.
"This is dairy country. They know the advantage of getting rid of the solids and the nutrients," he said. "They know the value of the bedding it will provide as a sidestream."
DeGroot said he now spends about $1,300 a month for sawdust for animal bedding. The product the digester will turn out "isn't that different."
The site, about halfway between Seattle and Mount Rainier, is central to the participating dairies, which total 1,200 to 1,400 cows.
There's also the possibility of adding another digester if more dairies want to get involved, Davis said.
A big selling point of a digester is its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- about 4,000 tons of methane a year in this case. That selling point was key to providing critical up-front funding for construction.
The developer, Rainier Biogas LLC, turned to NativeEnergy to help provide financing. Through NativeEnergy's Help Build carbon offsets, four companies -- eBay, Stonyfield Farm, Brita and Effect Partners -- were able to purchase a share of the verified emissions reductions that the project will produce over a 10-year period.
The digester also has received incentives and subsidies from the Washington State Energy Program, the Department of Energy, King County and the USDA.
After initial development costs, they expect the digester to be self-sustaining through the sale of electricity onto the grid.
Rainier Biogas is the third anaerobic manure digester developed in Western Washington by Farm Power Northwest. Kevin Maas, co-founder of Farm Power, said other digesters are operating near Lynden and Rexville, north of Seattle.
"Everyone in the community will benefit from this project," he said. "It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect the area's sensitive rivers and streams and provide low-cost bedding for local farmers."
Farm Power designs the project, raises the funds to make it happen and operates the digester.
* NativeEnergy, a carbon-offset provider in business 10 years, has helped build 48 biogas, wind and hydro projects. It is a for-profit company partly owned by the nonprofit Intertribal Council On Utility Policy, an organization of Native American tribes in the Great Plains.
* eBay Inc. is an Internet company known for its online auction and shopping website. The multibillion-dollar business, with operations around the world, was founded in 1995.
* Stonyfield Farm, an organic yogurt maker in Londonberry, N.H., was founded in 1983 as an organic farming school.
* Brita, founded in 1966, is a German company specializing in water-filtration products, selling them in more than 60 countries.
* Effect Partners is a network of companies across many industries that promotes economic and environmental sustainability.