Anaerobic digester nears completion in Washington

By Ryan C. Christiansen
Construction of a new anaerobic digester in Snohomish County, Wash., is expected to be completed in October, and in January, adjacent generators are slated to begin producing electricity from captured methane gas. The facility is being built by Qualco Energy Corp. and will operate under the same name.

Three dairy farmers collecting manure from approximately 1,600 cows will be supplying feedstock for the digester. The generators will produce 450 kilowatts of power, enough to power approximately 300 homes. Qualco Energy is negotiating a power-purchase agreement with the Snohomish County Public Utility District. According to Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for the public utility district, the digester will help the utility meet a portion of its renewable portfolio standards requirements.

The digester will have the capacity to digest feedstock from 2,200 cows, said Dale Reiner, a Qualco Energy representative. The digester is being built on the Monroe Honor Farm, a defunct 280-acre prison facility that at one time provided on-the-job training opportunities for prison inmates, and dairy products for prison facilities and nonprofit agencies. The farm closed in 2002 after 60 years of operation.

The digester is being built after several years of negotiations between multiple organizations, Reiner said. Qualco Energy is a nonprofit group that includes representatives from the Sno/Sky Agricultural Alliance, a farmers' cooperative; Quil Ceda Power, a subsidiary of the Tulalip Tribes; and Northwest Chinook Recovery, a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 to preserve, restore and enhance salmon habitat in the Puget Sound region. The digester was first proposed to help consume waste from local dairy operations and to prevent runoff into local salmon streams. The digester will be located in the Tualco Valley in the Skykomish River and Snoqualmie River floodplains south of Monroe, Wash.