GESS International facility

A GESS International facility.

An international renewable energy company is investing $240 million in six anaerobic digesters at dairies near Burley, Idaho, to process manure and agricultural residue into natural gas.

GESS International estimates the digesters will produce enough natural gas to supply the energy needs of 40,800 homes.

“It’s a big project,” Seth Daughety, GESS International’s grant coordinator, told Capital Press.

The company has been in negotiations with area dairies for six months. The digesters will be on six dairies south of Burley. Those dairies have 20,000 to 30,000 dairy cattle, he said.

GESS will purchase manure from the dairies, creating a new revenue stream for the farmers and reducing the environmental impacts, he said.

The company chose the area because of the high concentration of dairy cattle. Dairy manure has high biogas potential, he said.

Each digester will utilize an estimated 170,000 tons of manure from dairy cattle and 80,000 tons of agricultural residues annually to produce 550,000 MMbtu of natural gas — enough to supply the needs 6,800 homes for a year.

The company plans to begin construction late this year and begin operations by late 2020.

It’s an exciting project, Rick Naerebout, executive director of Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said.

“It’s exciting to see these type projects go into place and definitely exciting that they’re economically feasible in Idaho, where they haven’t been before,” he said.

But the technology only works on the biggest dairies, he said, adding that the industry needs to continue to push forward on technology that won’t be cost prohibitive for small and medium dairies so they can also take advantage of anaerobic digestion.

The technology can help with sustainability, and it will definitely help the six dairies with how they deal with their manure, he said.

Byproducts from the biogas production will be separated into solids and water. The solids will be used as fertilizer on the dairies’ cropland, and the water will be further cleaned and used for irrigation, Daughety said.

Because the company is purchasing the manure, it creates a new revenue stream and is one more way dairies can diversify to help them through downturns in milk markets, Naerebout said.

It’s all positive, he said.

“Everybody definitely seems very on board” with the project, Daughety said.

GESS has been working with the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization on the permitting process and getting some incentives approved.

Cassia County commissioners will have a hearing on the project June 20. It is also in the process of obtaining final out-taker agreements for the natural gas, he said.

The project, which has an expected payback period of five years, will bring nearly 100 jobs to the region, he said.

GESS International is based in Raleigh, N.C., that specializes in solar and biogas projects, with more than 350 projects worldwide.

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