Four Vermont farms sign on as cow power contributors
By Bruce Edwards
Herald Staff | April 04,2006
Four Vermont farms will soon be producing electricity from cow manure with the help of Central Vermont Public Service Corp.Deer Flats Farm in West Pawlet, owned by Dick and Rich Hulett, who plan to use surplus crops and 210 cows to produce 3.6 million kilowatt-hours per year.
The CVPS Renewable Development Fund awarded grants totaling $666,000 to defray the cost of building farm-based electric generating systems to support the company's Cow Power renewable energy program.
Farms in Sheldon, Fairlee, West Pawlet and St. Albans will receive the grants from the CVPS Renewable Development Fund, established in 2004 to encourage farmers to develop new renewable generation and provide new manure management options through Cow Power.
"These grants will help develop 8,400 megawatt-hours of clean renewable energy right here in Vermont," CVPS President Robert Young said Monday in a statement. "That's enough energy to supply 1,395 average homes using 500 kwh per month."
According to CVPS, Cow Power is the country's only direct farm-to-consumer renewable energy program, working with dairy farmers who want to process their cow manure and other farm waste to generate electricity.
More than 2,500 of the utility's customers have enrolled in the program so far, which provides farms with new manure management options, environmental benefits and income. The process reduces methane emissions, which are roughly 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas trapping heat in the atmosphere.
CVPS spokesman Stephen Costello said each farm would receive a minimum grant of $150,000 to defray the total cost of the investment, which varies from farm to farm.
"It's safe to say they're going to be investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on their own," Costello said.
While Cow Power now represents a just a fraction of the utility's total power load, Costello said the company hopes the program will continue to grow.
"Our hope is to ultimately supply 3 to 5 percent of our residential customers within five to seven years," he said.
He added that enrollment in the program among customers has been steady while the drop out rate has been miniscule.
While a program like Cow Power will never generate a significant amount of energy, Public Service Department Commissioner David O' Brien said the program does provide meaningful benefits.
"What's meaningful here is you're creating an opportunity for people to be providing their own power source, potentially saving on energy costs for themselves, and the other things which are really terrific is the cleaning up of the waste stream from an environmental perspective and generating additional revenue source for farms," O'Brien said.
The four farms include:
Green Mountain Dairy Farm in Sheldon, owned by Brian and Bill Rowell, with 1,250 cows expected to produce 1.7 million kilowatt-hours per year.
Montagne Farms in St. Albans, two farms owned by Dave Montagne, with 1,200 cows expected to produce 1.7 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year.
Newmont Farms LLC in Fairlee, owned by Walter and Margaret Gladstone, with 1,020 cows expected to produce 1.4 million kilowatt-hours per year.
The farms need Vermont Public Service Board approval to interconnect the generators, but CVPS said that all hope to be online later this year.
CVPS's first Cow Power producer, Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, has been generating energy for more than a year, serving as an example to other farms. The Audet family, which operates Blue Spruce, have a new revenue stream, eliminated over $60,000 in bedding costs annually by using dry solids left over from the digestion process, and substantially cut fuel bills by using waste heat from the generator to heat the office, the milking parlor, and hot water used for washing the milking equipment.
CVPS customers can sign up to get all, half or a quarter of their electrical energy through Cow Power. Customers pay a premium of 4 cents per kilowatt hour, which goes to participating farm-producers, to purchase renewable energy credits when enough farm energy isn't available, or to the CVPS Renewable Development Fund. Farm-producers are also paid 95 percent of the market price for the electricity sold to CVPS.
To generate the biogas fuel, manure is held in a sealed concrete tank at the same temperature as a cow's stomach, 101 degrees. Bacteria digest the volatile components of the manure, creating biogas while killing pathogens and weed seeds. The biogas, which is part methane, fuels an engine/generator, and the energy is put onto CVPS's power lines for delivery to customers.
"The Cow Power program is a great example of Vermonters working together to reduce pollution and help the Vermont economy," said Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation, a member of the CVPS Renewable Development Fund's executive committee. "The ingenuity of many Vermonters has made this a success, and it shows how promising renewable energy is for our future."