Farm Power builds second dairy AD plant

By Lisa Gibson | May 31, 2010
Posted June 30, 2010, at 4:09 p.m. CST

The second anaerobic dairy digester developed by Washington-based Farm Power Northwest LLC should be operational by the end of the year, using manure from a nearby farm to provide 750 kilowatts of electricity to homes around its Lynden, Wash., location.

Farm Power aims to develop a number of dairy digesters that can take manure from multiple farms, sending it back processed and ready for use as organic fertilizer or cow bedding. All services are free of charge to the farmers, according to Kevin Maas, Farm Power co-founder. "Our strategy is we raise the money, we develop the project, we provide the service for free," Maas said of the development business he runs with his brother, Daryl Maas. Farmers are already feeling financial constraints and work plenty of long hours, so extra burdens are unnecessary, Kevin Maas emphasized. "Everybody wants to see farmers survive," he said, adding that by signing a contract with Farm Power, farmers get something for nothing.

While one large farm will supply manure for the Lynden facility, Farm Power's existing Rexville, Wash., location collects manure from two farms. It sits in between them, allowing for an underground piping system that's used to pump manure to the AD facility and back after it has been processed, Maas said. The underground piping system is the only responsibility and cost to the farmers, as even the processed manure is provided free of charge. "That's been more successful than we thought," Maas said of returning the manure. "The farmers are happy; the cows are healthier." Sending manure to the digester does help farmers reduce odors in their operations, but it's hard to assign a cost savings to that benefit. "It's easy to put a dollar sign on no more sawdust bills," Maas said.

Projects in the future may not use underground piping systems, opting instead for trucking, although Maas said he doesn't know who would be responsible for that. "Every project is unique," he said. "You can't just stamp these out like you can solar projects." Farm Power has a few more projects in development including one in Oregon, it's first out-of-state plant.

The Lynden project is funded through several agencies: $1 million from the Washington State Energy Program; a $500,000 USDA Rural Development grant; and a $2.4 million loan from Shorebank Pacific, according to Farm Power.

The facilities co-digest food processing waste, as well, Maas added, but the main focus is on manure feedstock. "Manure is always our foundation," he said, adding that it can be risky to plan projects solely around food processing waste and other feedstocks.

Farm Power has a power purchase agreement with Washington utility Puget Sound Energy through its Green Power Program. "PSE really has gone above and beyond the minimum standards and decided they want to offer a little longer contract than required," Maas said. PSE's ambition has contributed to the development of numerous AD facilities in the state.

"If they keep farming, we can make money selling that power," Maas said.