Vilsack tours Penn. dairy digester

By Anna Simet | July 18, 2012

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently toured a Pennsylvania anaerobic digestion operation for a first-hand account of what USDA and the Rural Energy for American Program helped support deployment of.

The Pennwood Farms digester near Berlin, Penn., converts manure of the farm’s 600 dairy cows into biogas, which powers a 180-kilowatt engine-generator. The farm is now completely energy independent, and sells enough electricity back to the grid to service about 600 people, according to USDA, or 920,000 kWh per year.

Additionally, the leftover digestate is used in lieu of animal bedding, which saves the farm about $60,000 annually.

The digester has now been operating for about one year, its success largely due to $475,000 in Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority Funding, and grants and loans totaling over $528,000 through REAP. REAP was authorized through the 2008 Farm Bill, and continued program funding is currently being hashed out in the Senate and House versions of the 2012 Farm Bill.

Beginning of July, Vilsack announced 450 new REAP projects nationwide, which includes over 20 biomass, anaerobic digestion and blender pump projects.

In addition to REAP, USDA offers further funding to help farmers install an anaerobic digester as part of their manure management system through its Natural Resources Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentive Program.  Since 2009, the Obama Administration has provided 149 digester awards to eligible applicants, according to USDA.