Cow manure to provide electricity in Washington

Farm Power, a Skagit County renewable energy company, and Puget Sound Energy, Washington’s oldest local utility, announced the entry into service of the state’s newest source of clean, sustainable power – an anaerobic dairy digester that transforms cow manure into a source of electricity and economic vitality for the region’s agricultural community. The dairy digester is capable of producing up to 750 kilowatts of electricity – or approximately the energy needed to power 500 homes – and will provide electricity to PSE’s Green Power Program.

Farm Power’s expected annual electricity output of approximately 6,000 megawatt-hours will go exclusively to PSE’s Green Power Program, which allows the utility’s customers to sign up to have some or all of the equivalent of the energy needs be purchased on their behalf by the utility from certified renewable energy producers. With more than 24,000 participating PSE customers, the Green Power Program is among the largest of the nation’s 600 similar efforts.

The program was recognized by the United States Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency for its role in spurring the development of new sources of energy including biomass, such as the Farm Power digester, as well as solar and wind projects around the Pacific Northwest. The energy projects supported by the Green Power Program are separate from – and in addition to – the renewable energy projects of PSE, which is the Pacific Northwest’s first and the nation’s second-largest utility owner and operator of wind power according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The Farm Power site is located west of Interstate 5 and just north of the Skagit River in Rexville. It will utilize the manure of two neighboring dairy farms, along with other agricultural waste products such as spoiled fruit and cheese whey, as well as remnants from chicken processing. In addition to producing electricity, the dairy digester’s other environmental benefits include reduced odor, a lowering of residual nitrogen in field-applied manure and the production of fiber bedding for use on the farms.

The Maas brothers credit Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (10th district – Skagit County) and Governor Chris Gregoire for their support, including a $500,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce as well as the passage of legislation that fostered their project and other alternative energy programs in Washington.

Daryl Maas notes that the two neighboring farms providing manure to the digester, Beaver Marsh Farms and Harmony Dairy, are owned by the sons of families they have known since grade school.

Like a number of other digester projects across the country, Farm Power received a grant and loan package from the USDA Rural Energy for America Program. A $500,000 grant from the federal agency added to equity contributed by local investors, while $2.1 million in USDA loan guarantees covered long-term borrowing from ShoreBank Pacific.