Green Mountain Power's Cow Power Program creates cost incentives for farmers to turn livestock waste into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion. A new ruling by the Vermont Public Service Board will expand this program from a limited territory to Green Mountain's entire service territory.
Green Mountain Power customers across Vermont can now support a pure Vermont form of renewable energy produced by over 10,000 Vermont dairy cows, thanks to a new ruling by the Vermont Public Service Board approving the expansion of the GMP Cow Power Program from the limited territory previously served by CVPS to the entire GMP service territory.
Cow Power was first offered to customers in 2004, as a way to offer new, local renewable energy choices. The GMP Cow Power program currently includes 12 farms, and generates 16 million kilowatthours per year -- enough to completely power 2,200 average Vermont homes.
"We are so excited to be able to offer GMP Cow Power to 90,000 additional Green Mountain Power customers," said Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power. "This program has so many benefits for farms, for the environment, and for Vermont as a whole. The expansion of this program is one more way that we can increase renewable power in Vermont."
To produce Cow Power, farmers feed cow manure into an on-site anaerobic digester. Naturally occurring microbes in the digester convert the waste into several useful byproducts, one of which is methane gas. The methane fuels an engine which drives an electric generator. Heat generated from this process is repurposed to keep the digester warm, and can offset fuel purchases on the farm for hot water and space heating. The energy generated is fed into the GMP electrical system for distribution to customers.
The coarse plant fibers left over are processed through a mechanical separator. These odorless solids can be used to replace sawdust or sand as bedding for the animals. Solids not used for bedding may be further processed and sold as a garden soil. The liquid portion is an enhanced fertilizer used to grow crops to feed the cows.
Matt Maxwell is a farmer at Maxwell's Neighborhood Farm in Coventry, VT, which has been producing Cow Power since 2008. "We joined the program because milk prices were so low, and we were looking for a separate, steady income stream," he said. "It's been great for us. There's the income from the sale of electricity. We're using the dry by-product as bedding for our 750 dairy cows, and we have excess to sell to other farmers and landscapers. With excess heat from the engine we've been able to heat a 2,600 square foot greenhouse where we raise broccoli and greens for the wholesale market all winter, and tomatoes and peppers in the summer. We also heat our machine shop with the excess heat, which means we buy way less heating oil. When people pay a little extra to buy GMP Cow Power, they are helping the environment, and they are helping Vermont farmers stay in business."
Green Mountain Power customers can choose to buy 25%, 50%, or 100% of their energy from Cow Power, and pay an extra four cents per kilowatt hour premium. If an average Vermont household using 600 kwh a month decided to get 25% of their energy from GMP Cow Power, they would pay an extra $6 per month.
A similar program has been launched in British Columiba, Canada. The B.C. Agricultural Research and Development Coproration (ADRCorp) has created a program under which B.C.'s electricity consumers have the option to buy thier electricty from on-farm A.D. systems. The program, inspired by the Vermont initaitive, provides local renewable energy to B.C., while lowering carbon footprints.
The programs in Vermont and British Columbia are postive signs for biogas in North America. However, the industry faces signficant challenges. One such challenge is finacial risk. For example, under Cowpower Vermont, after grants, the farm still has to pay for more than half the cost of an average $2 million dollar digester project, which would usually be amortized over a 10-year period. Gross income from biogas energy for a 1000-head farm averages only $300,000 a year, about 7.5 percent of a dairy’s total gross revenue. Given that the life expectancy of a given system runs roughly only 20 years, invesment in Biogas is still a risky proposition.
While current North American industry is largely dependant on subsidies, innovation aims to change this. New technology including the growth and sale of biogas byproducts, increases profitability by adding additional revenue streams. Also, new and innovative tank building methods help expand the lifecyle of each project, bolsterring profitability. Governemnt and not-for-profit subsidies combined with technological advancements could hold the key to creating a more viable biogas market in North America.
Interested in learning more about Anaerobic Digestion? Download "AD-101":
A Wisconsin biogas facility is about to get into another green business: algae.
Canadian company, Solutions4CO2 has just inked a deal to bring its proprietary Integrated Biogas Refinery (IBR) system to Vir-Clar Farm Power's already operational biogas facility in Wisconsin. The new system promises to increase the concentration of methane output while adding a new potential revenue stream to the mix: algae.
With slow returns and a tough regulatory climate, biogas has fought an uphill battle in North America. “Solutions4CO2 provides AD developers with real solutions to these economic and environmental challenges,” said Douglas Kemp-Welch, S4CO2’s Chief Executive Officer.
Integrated Biogas Refinery by Solutions4CO2 Inc.
The process of anaerobic digestion traditionally produces gas containing roughly 60% methane, 39% Carbon dioxide (CO2) and 1% hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Solutions4CO2's Integrated Biogas Refinery separates CO2 and H2S from methane by dissolving it into solid form, benefitting the system in two ways. First, it allows for a more concentrated methane stream, resulting in increased power generation. Second, the newly separated CO2 and H2S are used to produce algae biomass, whose by-products are sold on the open market.
Algae's future as a biofuel may still be up in the air but as many producers already know, there is a growing market for its nutraceutical and pharmaceutical co-products. If all goes as expected, this increased efficiency coupled with the new revenue will cut average new project payback times by more than half.
Solutions4CO2 Inc. (S4CO2) is a Canadian company that develops innovative Waste to High Value Co-Product solutions for waste gas, water and biomass streams.
Photo- Octaform built dairy parlor for Hoeken Dairy Farm. Kinroi, Belgium
OREGON- Oregon's dairy industry seems to be bucking a trend that plagues other agricultural sectors nationwide. While the average age of farmers in general is going up, there appears to be an influx of young dairy operators in Oregon that is slowing down the graying of the state's dairy farmers overall. The enthusiasm of youth is helping the industry keep up with the times, both economically and environmentally.
While current statistics are hard to come by, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that Oregon dairy's demographics are changing.
"I believe there is a much larger percentage of young people getting into the dairy industry in Oregon compared to other states," says Jim Krahn of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association. "At our latest convention, we had dairy farmers from Washington and Idaho in attendance and they commented on how they couldn't believe the high number of young people attending."
The Oregon Department of Agriculture has noticed as well. ODA's Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Program hosted a manure management field day in late April for CAFO permit holders and operators. The field day focused on calibrating different types of manure application equipment, measuring and recording manure nutrient content, and implementing various cultural practices that help make manure management successful.
"For our staff, one of the most gratifying parts of the field day was the participation by the next generation of operators," says Wym Matthews, ODA's CAFO Program manager. "We had 16 operators under the age of 30. It is very important to note that the younger generation took the time to attend this activity. We were impressed by their interest level and questions."
Certainly, some of the younger attendees were strongly encouraged to attend the field day by their fathers- the primary dairy operator. But others took their own initiative to be there and learn more about successful manure management.
"We all know the future of successful agricultural operations depends on cultivating the next generation of farmers," says Matthews. "If Oregon's future CAFO operators are like this group of young individuals, Oregon's CAFO agriculture operations will be in very capable hands."
Dairy farming in Oregon has survived as well as any state for a couple of reasons. First, the growth in organic dairying, while not unique to Oregon, has provided a market for a value-added product. Secondly, the Tillamook area continues to provide the opportunity for farmers to graze their dairy cattle- something that's not always an option in other states.
Younger dairy farmers are coming into the business from different directions.
"Dairy farming is what I've always known, " says Matt Perrin of Perrin Family Dairy in Woodburn. "It's part of who I am. In a way, I've always known it is something I would do. But I also didn't want to see all of my dad's hard work just disappear. Dad said he would love it if I continued the farm, but only if I wanted to."
Perrin's education included a degree in general agriculture from Oregon State University. He's also attended numerous conferences and trainings, including the ODA field day. But it was the life-long job training gained by working alongside his father that has most given him the skills to be successful.
Perrin has been a very active leader as well. He currently is a board member of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association.
Pete Mahaffy is just as active and interested in Oregon's dairy industry, but it wasn't always that way. He and his wife Kelly currently run a 200-acre dairy near Coos Bay.
"I grew up on my family's farm, but I had no interest in returning when I left for OSU," says Mahaffy, who received a general agriculture degree but minored in horticulture. "The one moment that changed by direction was a guest lecture on intensive rotational grazing. It seemed like a perfect theory for the river valley that the farm was located on east of Coos Bay. That led me to work for an organic dairy farmer following graduation, where I could learn my craft prior to returning home."
Mahaffy's parents did not encourage him to return home because they knew dairying was a hard life. Still, he made the decision to be part of the next generation of dairy farmers in Oregon.
"The attitude of the dairy operators has changed significantly in the last nine years since I returned home," says Mahaffy. "Some thought organic was just a flash in the pan moment, but the industry has matured to the point that there is confidence in its long term stability."
Both Perrin and Mahaffy agree that the younger generation of Oregon dairy farmers has a high interest in best management practices and good stewardship. That doesn't mean their parents do not share that interest. But with additional education and better technology, the new wave of operators may have an advantage.
"These young people are concerned about the product they are producing, the way their animals are handled, and environmental stewardship" says ODFA's Krahn. "They realize that dairy farming today is not just milking cows. It's a well-rounded approach that includes taking care of the animals, the land, and the water."
Young dairy farmers are also being molded into leaders. ODFA offers a dairy leadership program to help engage the next generation. The program provides media training, meetings with legislators, and opportunities to attend industry meetings. It's all part of giving young dairy farmers as many tools as possible to succeed in today's fast-changing world of agriculture.
"The whole process we've set up helps make these young dairy farmers feel welcome and they are encouraged to be involved," says Krahn.
For the Oregon consumer, it's good to know there is a new wave of dairy farmers arriving on the scene.
Ottawa - Being proactive in understanding and managing a farm's business risks is a key ingredient to achieve profitability. Producers across Canada are actively using AgriInvest to manage small declines in farm income. Participating is easy and convenient, with farmers in control of their investments.
In the coming weeks and months, producers who have applied for AgriInvest in the 2011 program year can expect to see Deposit Notices arrive in their mailboxes. These notices provide important information on the amount farmers would need to deposit to qualify for matching government contributions.
AgriInvest is a self-managed producer-government savings account that allows producers to set money aside to deal with small drops in income or to support investments to mitigate risks or improve market income. Deposits are made by producers based on a percentage of their Allowable Net Sales, and these deposits qualify for matching contributions from federal, provincial, and territorial governments. With matching contributions, even a small investment can help offset minor income shortfalls.
AgriInvest accounts are held at a participating financial institution of the producer's choice. Deposits must be made at the financial institution by the due date shown on the Deposit Notice. Producers have the flexibility to withdraw funds at any time throughout the year.
Participating in AgriInvest is easy. Application forms are available on the Publications and Forms page at www.agr.gc.ca/agriinvest, or by calling Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada toll free at 1-866-367-8506. The penalty-free deadline to file a 2011 application is September 30, 2012. Applications will be accepted until December 31 with a penalty.
AgriInvest is cost shared on a 60:40 basis between the federal and the provincial and territorial governments. The program is delivered by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in all provinces except Quebec, where it is delivered by La Financière agricole. Over 136,000 producers across Canada participate in AgriInvest. Account balances currently total $1.3 billion, which includes producer deposits and government contributions.
WASHINGTON – With the help of $3.9 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA), AgStar plans to increase its efforts to bring methane recovery to US farms.
AgStar's commitment will help construct more on-farm anaerobic digesters like this one built by CCS-agriKomp, helping farmers generate energy while managing waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
Expanding the work of AgStar, a joint EPA-USDA program, this new interagency agreement will promote renewable energy generation and slash greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations for at least the next 5 years.
“We want to seize every opportunity to confront climate change and move into the clean economy of the future. This is a smart way to transform what would be a harmful greenhouse pollutant into a source of renewable energy -- and make a profit for American farmers,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We have the technology and the expertise, all we need now is to act. The AgStar program brings real benefits to our air and creates new opportunities for our farming community.”
“The farms and ranches that dot our countryside can contribute greatly to addressing America’s long-term energy challenges and the partnership we are announcing today will not only help generate renewable energy, but provide new income opportunities for farmers and ranchers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The EPA and USDA’s committment will provide up to $3.9 million over the next five years to help farms overcome obstacles preventing them from recovering and using biogas. The collaboration will expand technical assistance efforts, improve technical standards and guidance for the construction and evaluation of biogas recovery systems, and expand outreach to livestock producers and assist them with pre-feasibility studies.
Biogas is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Biogas emitted from manure management systems called digesters can be collected and used to produce electricity, heat or hot water. Due in large part to AgStar’s efforts, about 150 on-farm manure digesters are now operating at livestock facilities across the U.S. In addition, EPA estimates there are about 8,000 farms across the United States that are good candidates for capturing and using biogas. If all 8,000 farms implemented biogas systems, methane emissions would be reduced by more than 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, roughly equal to the annual emissions from 6.5 million passenger vehicles. In addition, these projects could generate more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy.
WASHINGTON— The American Biogas Council is pleased with the Obama Administration for connecting biogas to its "all-of-the-above" approach to America’s energy challenges. Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack announced just last week, a $5 million payment from his agency to support the construction of a new biogas system at a cattle farm in Oakley, KS.
| Manure from dairy cattle is largely an untapped source of renewable energy in the United States.
The completed project will replace almost 90 percent of the fossil fuels currently used by the farm and is expected to create 15 full-time positions and almost 100 additional construction opportunities.
In announcing the grant, Secretary Vilsack underscored the role biogas plays in meeting renewable electricity and gas needs. Biogas systems produce a continuous stream of methane-rich gas that can be used for baseload renewable electricity and as a renewable substitute for natural gas. “Projects such as this are a key part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above approach to American energy that is supporting the development and usage of renewable energy, revitalizing rural economies and creating an America built to last,” said
|CCS-agriKomp's brand-new anaerobic digester connected to Ontario's electric grid in April of this year.
Biogas systems utilize mature technology that has been used for decades in a small part of a niche sector: wastewater treatment. However, biogas plants have much wider rural and urban applications anywhere there is organic waste, such as food scraps, restaurant greases, farm waste, wastewater sludge and more.
“The biogas market is essentially untapped in the U.S., which presents a huge opportunity for American businesses to turn garbage into green energy using a contained, natural, biological process,” said Patrick Serfass, Executive Director of the American Biogas Council.
The American Biogas Council has identified 2,200 operational biogas projects and over 12,000 potential sites yet to be developed in the wastewater (3,300), agriculture (8,200), landfill (500) and industrial and commercial sectors. Biogas could replace 10% of America’s electricity needs with renewable, 24-7 power.
“We thank President Obama, his Administration and especially Secretary Vilsack for recognizing the valuable opportunity we have to build our economy by building systems that turn organic waste into versatile, reliable renewable energy,” said Paul Greene, Chairman of the Board for the American Biogas Council. “This announcement has been a key ingredient in the recipe we’re using to accelerate the U.S. biogas industry. The project exemplifies the combination of factors needed: public awareness, willing investors, community support and an open mind to approaches for waste management. ”
The grant was made under USDA Rural Development’s Repowering Assistance Program. The American Biogas Council urges Congress to reauthorize and fund these important energy programs in the next Farm Bill.
The non-profit American Biogas Council represents 150 companies (including Octaform) dedicated to maximizing the production and use of biogas from organic waste. Members include anaerobic digester developers/builders, engine and turbine manufacturers, farmers, wastewater utilities, landfill operators, engineering and law firms, financiers, non profits, universities and the entire biogas supply chain.
Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee just voted to provide $800 million in mandatory funding for the Energy Title of the 2012 Farm Bill proposal. Before voting to approve the bill, the committee approved an amendment offered by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) to provide mandatory funding over five years to energy programs that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in rural America.
Farm Bill Energy Title programs leverage billions of dollars in private investment. In 2011 various USDA programs helped develop over 60 dairy-based biogas systems, using anaerobic digesters. Last year the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) alone provided nearly $21 million in assistance for biogas systems which leveraged over $110 million in project development. Farm energy projects, like biogas systems, promote agricultural economic resiliency by providing additional revenue streams and by mitigating the costs of fluctuating energy prices and waste disposal. Biogas systems use a natural process to produce a continuous stream of methane rich gas that can be used for baseload renewable electricity and as a renewable substitute for natural gas.
ABC Executive Director Patrick Serfass said, “We commend the efforts of Senators Conrad and Lugar and of the numerous co-sponsors for ensuring funding for these crucial farm energy programs. While the continued funding of these farm energy programs is far from guaranteed at this point in the legislative process, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s vote was an encouraging show of support for farm energy programs that foster new agricultural markets and support rural economic self-sufficiency. We appreciate Chairwoman Stabenow’s and Ranking Member Roberts’s leadership in moving forward with the reauthorization of these important programs.”
We wanted to share a success story about an Octaform customer, Dave P. Hofer, a carpenter from the Hutterite community of Springwater Colony. A few years ago, he approrached us with the terrible news that their wooden barn had burned down.
After weeks of research and comparing the construction benefits of traditional wooden barns with more modern concrete barns, the colony chose Octaform.
Octaform, Hofer decided, was perfect for a colony build. The stay-in-place PVC forming system assembles with minimal training and doesn't require heavy equipment to construct. This and the added value of a built-in, premium finish made building with Octaform the best choice for Springwater Colony.
With Octaform, these Hutterites managed to build a 25 thousand square foot hog barn in just 61 days.
Since moving into the new barn, Springwater Colony has seen a reduction in their heating costs due to the insulated concrete walls which help regulate the temperature inside. The hogs, in turn, are not affected by extreme heat conditions so they are always on feed.
When we called Dave to follow up on the Octaform barn was performing, he shared, “There is no comparison from our old wood barn to our Octaform barn. The insulated walls with the Octaform barn, have helped regulate temperature changes and we’ve seen over a 35% reduction in our heating costs, yearly. This significant reduction in savings has been beneficial to the overall operational cost to our colony."
We also got feedback from Andy Hofer, the Hog Boss of Springwater Colony.
“With the Octaform Barn, the walls are easy to wash and keep clean. Because of this, we’ve experienced a 25% reduction in our cleaning time. There has also been a difference in the growth rate of the hogs. An average hog raised in the wooden barn took 6 months for full growth at a weight of 225-240 lbs compared to the hogs raised in the Octaform barn that now take 5 months for full growth at an average weight of 250 lbs per hog. At Springwater Colony, we have happy hogs”.
Octaform has long been a building material of choice for agriculture. Barn walls constructed with the Octaform concrete forming system are easy to clean, look great and can even lower insurance costs.
Furthermore, no cranes, expensive forming equipment, or specialized trades are required to build with Octaform. Given the option, many farmers have been keen to build a premium concrete structure with the tools, labour and materials already available to them.
Better Hog Barns Reduce Costs
Today, sophisticated farmers are also noticing that Octaform offers many other advantages. Hog farmers in Minnesota, known for its extreme seasonal temperatures, have realized that by building their barns with Octaform, they are using less energy to heat and cool the facilities. Furthermore, they are getting hogs to market faster. During periods of extreme heat, hogs will at best, eat less and grow slowly. At worst, they suffer from stress, fight and sometimes die.
Octaform, they claim, eliminates this problem. Not only are the hogs less stressed by swings in temperature, they are happier and they grow faster, increasing speed to market.
Tour Some State-of-the-Art Pig Barns:
Minnesota Farmers talk about their state-of-the-art finishing barns.
Octaform barns are also easy to clean and almost impenetrable by outside threats such as disease-carrying rodents. This environment almost certainly reduces the need for chemical pest control, antibiotics or other medical treatment often necessitated by conventional wooden structures.
CANADA- On January 27th, Cowpower was launched at the 2012 Pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford, and British Columbians were granted a ground-breaking opportunity. For the first time ever, BC residents can create positive environmental change and renewable energy production, all the while supporting local, sustainable agriculture.
For around a dollar a day, Cowpower supporters can enhance the environmental sustainability of every kilowatt-hour of electricity that their business, home or event consumes. These kilowatts are enhanced with the environmental and social attributes that are generated by anaerobic digesters, including reductions in greenhouse gas and odour emissions, and increased water and food safety, environmental protection and nutrient recovery.
We at Cowpower hope that this program will help make BC a leader in the development of anaerobic digesters – a technology that generates genuine environmental, social and economic benefits for our agricultural sector, local communities and BC as a whole. We look forward to building the Cowpower community with residents and businesses across the province.
The Cowpower launch was a great success, and everyone in attendance seemed genuinely excited about this new program. “Cowpower is an important step towards building stronger bridges between consumers and the agriculture sector”, said one of the attendees. “Farmers have the ability to do more than produce food” said a farmer at the launch. “However, first we need the right support to be able to build anaerobic digesters that are economically viable.”
Jim Shepard, the Pacific Agriculture Show organiser, was excited about the launch of Cowpower and having the Pacific Agriculture Show Cowpowered. “Since its inception, the Pacific Agriculture Show has always had a focus on efficiency and responsible stewardship of the land”, said Jim. “Cowpower not only enables the Show to take this focus to a whole new level, but it also gives us the opportunity to support the very sector that is so intrinsic to the success of the Show”.
British Columbia's Agricultural Research and Development corporation (ARDCORP) released the results of the On-Farm Anaerobic Digestion Benchmark Study in late December 2011. It was undertaken to provide an informational benchmark from which individuals and groups in B.C.'s agricultural sector can inform decisions pertaining to the development of on-farm anaerobic digestion systems.
(Photo:Two Stout Monks) Arial View of British Columbia's agricultural landscape.
The benchmarks have been drawn based on the analysis and summation of feasibility studies developed for twelve farm-sites in B.C. The twelve sites were selected with the intention of representing geographic, demographic and circumstantial variances.
The study highlights a key issue within the B.C's government regulations, "the Ministry of Environment's (MOE) proposed On‐farm AD Waste Discharge Authorization essentially limits the volume of non-agricultural feedstocks an on-farm AD system can accept to 25%. As a result, the potential number of economically viable AD systems in B.C. is restricted to a very small number of sites that have an ideal combination of farm size, distance from interconnection and proximity/access to highly desirable feedstocks. If MOE proposed On‐farm AD Waste Discharge Authorization were changed to enable on-farm AD systems to meet the requirements for accepting 49% non-agricultural feedstocks, the number of economically viable sites in B.C. would increase dramatically".
Funding for the study was provided by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP). In B.C., this program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. Learn more about the Anaerobic Digestion Benchmarking Study here.