Second ‘Cow Power’ digester planned
Dane County officials have been working for some time toward the creation of a second multi-farm manure digester, aimed at reducing phosphorus runoff and producing renewable energy.
After several years of work and planning, they helped make the first such digester a reality last year for three dairy farms just north of Waunakee.
Dane County executive Joe Parisi announced the location of the county’s second “community” digester April 11 at a press conference in the Town of Springfield just outside Middleton, on Madison’s west side.
There the Ziegler Dairy Farm, Blue Star Dairy (owned by the Meinholz family) and the Hensen Brothers dairy farm have agreed to participate in the project. The partnership will also include U.S. Biogas as project developer — doing the engineering and contracting work for the project.
Construction of the manure digester is expected to begin later this year on the site that has been selected on a piece of the Ziegler farm.
Construction of the county’s first joint farm digester near Waunakee employed about 60 subcontractors and 230 workers during the construction phase. Officials said this project is expected to employ a similar number.
The county was the first in the state (and perhaps the nation) to construct such a community manure digester, linking the manure streams of several nearby farms to one manure-to-electricity generation plant.
Like the first digester, this new one is planned to produce electricity from the manure’s methane and turn the solids into a phosphorus-containing compost product that will be marketed to landscapers and gardeners outside of Dane County.
Gundersen Health Systems, a La Crosse-based health care provider, has signed on to be part of this new digester project as part of a company effort to invest in clean, renewable power.
Jeff Rich, executive director of GL Envision, LLC, a subsidiary of Gundersen Health System, said Gundersen Health System aims to be energy independent by 2014 with the added goals of reducing pollution and improving the health of people through environmental improvements.
This project, he said, will account for 9 percent of the energy independence goals set by the company and will allow them to pass energy savings along to patients in the form of lower health care costs.
Gundersen is a participant in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative Challenge and aims to help other healthcare systems learn how they can implement successful sustainability programs in their own communities.
“Projects like this one get to the core of what our Envision program is all about. We are proud to partner with Dane County and the farm families on this important project,” Rich said.
KEEPING PHOSPHORUS OUT OF LAKES
One goal of these projects is to keep excessive phosphorus pollution from entering the county’s lakes. Phosphorus is the main culprit in causing the growth of algae and weeds in county lakes and is known to come from both urban and rural sources.
Years ago the use of phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizer was banned in Dane County. The county was the first in the state to do so when it took that action in 2005.
Casey Becker, a spokesman for Parisi’s office said the county’s first manure digester is already credited with keeping 40,000 pounds of phosphorus from going into county watersheds while the electricity being generated helps power area homes.
Becker explained that manure from one of the farms participating in the new project — Hensen Brothers — will need to be trucked to the new digester facility since it isn’t located next to the site. “But this will also make it possible for other farms to be part of this when they see it working,” she said.
Madison Gas and Electric will purchase the 11 million kilowatt hours of electricity generated annually from the Springfield facility, enough to power approximately 1,600 homes. The “green” renewable electricity will be added to the local electric grid to help serve all customers.
“These digesters represent the strong relationship we have with Dane County’s farm families to help keep our lakes clean and the shared value we place on making sure our agricultural industry thrives for generations to come,” said Parisi.
“Each project is a testament to the entire county’s commitment to clean energy and green jobs, and using partnerships and innovation to accomplish our goals.”
The second digester realizes a goal Parisi set in his Dane County Water Partnership — a five-year plan to help clean up the county’s lakes.
It also builds on the county’s partnership with farm families to reduce phosphorus runoff in targeted runoff areas throughout the Yahara Lakes watershed, he said.
Some other runoff cleanup projects on area farms have included covering feedlot areas to keep rainfall and runoff from carrying manure away from cattle enclosures.
DAIRY IS BIG IN DANE COUNTY
Dane County has 400 dairy farms with about 50,000 dairy cows. In the county that makes it a $700-million-a-year industry, which supports 4,000 jobs.
“Converting manure into electricity not only provides a 24/7 source of renewable energy, but also helps keep algae-causing phosphorus out of our lakes,” said Greg Ziegler, one of the Town of Springfield dairy farmers participating in the project.
The project still needs the approval of the Dane County board of supervisors, and once that is granted, the project will move forward.
Also needed are approvals from the Town of Springfield board and air and water permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.