Cow Power in the Northwest

Multifarm digester projects are benefitting Pacific Northwest dairy farmers.
By Anna Austin | July 28, 2011

Mt. Vernon, Wash.-based Farm Power is busy at work developing what will become its third operating multifarm anaerobic digestion project in the Pacific Northwest. While the region is the company’s current focus, founder Kevin Maas believes there is potential for these types of digester projects in other regions across the U.S., and that they can help dairy farmers stay profitable.

Maas, a native to rural Mt. Vernon, says seeing dairy farms struggle and disappear over the years as a result of increasing economic challenges has been tough to watch. Maas and his brother started the company believing that it was one way to help farmers get involved in digester projects and prove that they are not only valuable to the farmers themselves, but the surrounding communities as well.

Projects have already been completed in Rexville, Wash., near Mount Vernon and near Lynden, Wash. For the latest project in the works at Enumclaw,  Wash., Farm Power has collaborated with three family farms—Ritter Dairy, Wallin Dairy and the DeGroot Brothers Dairy, which house a total of 1,200 cows.
The Ritter farm will host the digester, which will be linked by pipe to the DeGroot farm across the road. The Wallin Dairy will deliver its manure by truck. Maas says that while piping manure is the ideal scenario, it doesn’t always work because sometimes there are private property or major roadways in the way.

While none of the small-sized dairy farms can support digesters by themselves, collaborating allows the economics of the project to work, Maas says. And, the surrounding communities are positively affected as well. “The community has supported this project because everyone will benefit from it,” Maas says. “It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect the area’s sensitive rivers and streams and provide nutrient management and low-cost bedding for local farmers.”

Maas estimates that each farmer will save about $100 per cow per year on bedding costs. And, they don’t have to worry about coming up with the capital costs—usually around $3 million— to build the digester, he says. According to Farm Power’s business model, the company pays for the project construction costs and will own and operate the digesters, as well as sell the generated electricity to local power utilities. Farm Power is also working with NativeEnergy Inc., which helped provide financing for the project and will work to sell carbon reductions resulting from the digester.

Soon, Maas adds, Farm Power will expand its reach to dairy farms beyond Washington, as it is currently in permitting phases for two additional projects near Tillamook, Ore.

—Anna Austin