Vermont Gas, Middlebury College break ground on RNG project

By Vermont Gas | August 21, 2019

Representatives from Middlebury College, Vanguard Renewables, Vermont Gas, Goodrich Farm, and the State of Vermont gathered on Aug. 20 at the farm in Salisbury, Vermont, to mark the official groundbreaking for an anaerobic digester. The facility will combine cow manure and food waste to create renewable natural gas (RNG). The project is a milestone toward the College’s goal of using 100 percent renewable energy sources, and Middlebury will be the primary consumer of the RNG produced at the dairy farm. During the event, speakers from each organization discussed the facility, which will be the largest anaerobic digester east of the Mississippi River.

“One of the key components of Middlebury’s Energy 2028 plan is to shift the College completely to the use of renewable energy,” said David Provost, Middlebury’s executive vice president for finance and administration. “The digester is fundamental to this change.”

“Another exciting aspect of the digester is how it further connects the College to the local community and Vermont,” said Laurie Patton, Middlebury president. “The College’s interest in pursuing the facility also reflects our longstanding commitment to innovative environmental education and sustainability projects. Building on our carbon neutrality initiative, it will provide our students and faculty with new research and teaching opportunities.”

Construction on the Farm Powered anaerobic digester will be completed in 2020. RNG produced there will travel by pipeline to Middlebury College’s main power plant. Once the digester is operating, the gas it creates will supply about half of the energy that Middlebury uses for heating and cooling. The College’s biomass plant will continue to produce the other 50 percent. Both sources provide some of the College’s electricity.

Wellesley, Massachusetts-based Vanguard Renewables will build, own, and operate the digester, which will process 100 tons of manure and 180 tons of organic food waste daily into RNG. Vanguard is currently contacting local and Vermont-based food manufacturers to source the food waste. Vermont Gas has begun construction on Halladay Road on a 5-mile pipeline that will connect the farm with the company’s pipeline network in Addison County.

The digester’s benefits to the farm include free heat for farm use, high-quality liquid fertilizer that will reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers, and a reduction in the farm’s phosphorus levels and greenhouse gas emissions. An annual lease payment for hosting the digester will diversify the farm’s revenue sources. Located on more than 2,400 acres, the Goodrich Family Farm is a generational dairy farm with 900 milking cows. It is a member of the Agri-Mark Cabot Creamery Cooperative.

“Our family is excited to see this project transition from a dream into a reality,” said Chase Goodrich, who is among the fourth generation of his family to operate their farm. “The digester has been under discussion for a very long time, and now we could not be more encouraged to move our farm in a new direction.”

“We constantly seek innovative ways to be good stewards of the land and practice sustainable and viable agriculture,” he added. “The digester will help to continue to make this possible.”

“We also want to express our thanks to our wonderful partners,” said Goodrich, “as well as countless others who helped us accomplish this goal.”

“This is a unique partnership between a Vermont college, local dairy farm, utility, and renewable energy company,” said John Hanselman, executive chairman and CEO of Vanguard Renewables. “The exciting result will be a sustainable source of energy that didn’t previously exist and the recycling of tons of organic waste that was once sent to landfills. The project will also enable food producers and users in Vermont to comply with Act 148, Vermont’s Universal Recycling law, that bans all food waste from landfills and goes into effect in 2020.”

“The collaboration with Middlebury is our first with a college,” added Hanselman. “There isn’t another college in the country that’s in a partnership with a digester. Middlebury is a true leader in this regard.”

Vanguard currently owns and operates five other digesters that are all located in Massachusetts. The facility at the Goodrich Farm will be the company’s first in Vermont. The digester is expected to produce 180,000 Mcf per year. (A Mcf is 1,000 cubic feet of renewable natural gas.) The College will buy 100,000 Mcf of the gas from Vanguard, Vermont Gas will buy 40,000 Mcf, and Vanguard will retain 40,000 Mcf.

“The project is an exciting development in Vermont’s dairy industry and the Goodrich family deserve credit for their leadership,” said Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts. “We hope a project like this sparks more innovative partnerships that include other Vermont farms.”

“Our energy landscape is changing, faster than ever. Vermont Gas (VGS) is committed to be a leader in this transformation. Through innovation, efficiency, and adding renewable natural gas to our fuel supply, we are giving customers essential tools to reduce their carbon footprint and make Vermont even greener in the decades ahead,” said Don Rendall, president and CEO of VGS. “We are the first local distribution company in the country to offer customers renewable natural gas service. This project, will bring a local source of RNG – helping a local farm, enhancing local sustainability, contributing to our local economy. This will be another big win for Addison County, for Vermont, and for our planet.

Using 100 percent renewable energy sources is one of the components outlined in Middlebury’s Energy 2028 plan that the College announced in January. The 10-year plan also calls for reducing energy usage by 25 percent, divesting Middlebury’s endowment of investments in fossil fuels, and educating and involving the entire campus community in its implementation.

Middlebury College, Vanguard Renewables, Vermont Gas, and the Goodrich Farm announced their partnership in 2017 but the College and the Goodrich family have been working on the digester project in various forms for more than a decade.

“We are grateful to everyone involved, especially the Goodrich family, for having the patience to stay with the project and engaging in the hard work that went into making the digester a reality,” said Patton.