Vermont Cows Bring Methane to the Grid

Fifteen-hundred Bridport dairy cattle of all ages, from first-calf heifers to mature milk cows, have become the newest power generators in Vermont. Blue Spruce Farm has partnered with Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) for a Cow Power program. Blue Spruce is burning the waste methane gas produced from decomposing cow manure and providing the resulting electricity to CVPS.

“The girls are now officially producing two streams of income, a milk check and a power check,” said Earl Audet, who owns the farm along with his brothers and their families. “This is one more way to diversify the farm, improve our bottom line, and manage our manure responsibly.” CVPS Cow Power is Vermont’s first voluntary renewable pricing program, according to the utility. Customers can sign up to get all, half or a quarter of their energy through the program, which collects 4-cents per kWh for the environmental benefit of the energy. That payment, along with 95 percent of the market price for energy, goes to the farm generator. Funds from the power generation program will also support other forms of renewable energy in the region through the CVPS Renewable Development Fund, which was set up to provide incentives to Vermont farms to build methane generators. Blue Spruce Farm is expected to produce about 1.7 million kWh of energy per year. Numerous other farms are considering the idea, and some plan to combine their manure collection. It takes a farm with about 500 milking cows to produce enough energy for the Cow Power concept to be economically viable. “Our goal is to create a brand new market, allowing customers a renewable energy choice, and providing farmers with new income and manure management opportunities, and we’re off to a good start,” CVPS program director Dave Dunn said. “CVPS Cow Power gives new meaning to the old saying, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.'” Manure is collected in a large concrete tank, where it is heated up and the resulting methane is collected to fuel a generator. Byproduct from the process can be spread on fields as fertilizer, or the dry solids can be used for animal bedding. Use of the byproduct for animal bedding could save Blue Spruce Farm up to $60,000 annually. The farm invested a large share of its own funds in the project, but it also received incentives from CVPS, and state and federal grant programs to help get started. More than 1,000 CVPS customers have signed up for Cow Power since the Vermont Public Service Board approved the concept in August. “Many of our customers want to vote for renewable energy with their wallets,” CVPS spokesman Steve Costello said. “Support of farmers, the environment, and renewable energy are key factors. People seem to like that it’s local, it’s practical, and it’s benefiting people who work the land and help keep Vermont looking like Vermont.”
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