Methane gas project puts some Salisbury folks on edge

SALISBURY — While the Addison Natural Gas Project, a proposed 41-mile extension of natural gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes, grabs local headlines, a separate utility venture linked to that is gathering some momentum and generating some concerns among people in Salisbury.
At issue is an effort by Montpelier-based Integrated Energy Solutions (EIS) to establish a bio-methane gas production facility at the Goodrich Farm off Shard Villa Road in Salisbury. The centerpiece of the project: A bio-digester system that would extract methane gas from farm manure and food waste and convert it into a biogas that would be earmarked for a major client: Middlebury College.
The college would use the methane to replace 640,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil annually from its energy mix.
Proponents of the project say it would:
•  Help reduce the college’s carbon emissions by a whopping 40 percent (12,000 pounds) en route to its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2016.
•  Would be a financial boon to area farms — and in particular to the Goodrich Farm, which would get a cash payment for hosting the facility as well a convenient outlet for its cow manure, which the bio-digester system would break down into biogas as well as important agricultural byproducts. The three methane digesters would separate the manure into solids that could be used as low-cost cow bedding, while the liquid residue would be stripped of much of its phosphorous and the unpleasant odor and used as fertilizer.
•  Provide an environmentally sensitive disposal option for food waste for businesses, such as potentially the Agri-Mark/Cabot cheese plant in Middlebury.
“There is a net benefit for the college and the farm community,” said EIS President and founder Dan Smith. “We’re hopeful that everything will come together.”
But the plan — which will require multiple permits — is generating concerns from some area neighbors, particularly those on Shard Villa and Creek roads. That’s because plans call for EIS to contract with other area farms for additional manure to meet the biogas demand, something neighbors fear will add a lot of large vehicles with smelly cargoes to roads they say are quite narrow and currently actively used by pedestrians and bikers.
“No matter what road they use, it’s going to take a beating,” said Salisbury resident Barrie Baily, who lives on Leland Road, a southern extension of Shard Villa Road.
They’re also concerned about a 4-inch pipeline that EIS would hire Vermont Gas Systems to install from the Goodrich Farm and within the public rights-of-way along Shard Villa Road, Three Mile Bridge Road and Creek Road to ultimately connect with the Addison Natural Gas Project in Middlebury. Vermont Gas hopes to bring the pipeline to Middlebury’s Exchange Street area by next year and then fan out into other sections of town by 2015 (see related story, Page 1A).
Salisbury residents were scheduled to meet at their local school Wednesday evening, after the deadline for the Addison Independent, to discuss the EIS/Goodrich Farm proposal, which has been on the drawing board for around six years. A previous incarnation of the plan called for the biogas to be shipped by tanker trucks to a central receiving station near the Middlebury College campus. But Smith ultimately reasoned that the Addison Natural Gas Project would be a logical conduit to get the biogas to the college. He will seek approval from the Vermont Public Service Board to hire Vermont Gas to install the 4-inch line from the Goodrich Farm to its tie-in with the new pipeline.
Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark confirmed that residents along the route of the 4-inch line will be able to tap into it at no cost, provided they are within 100 feet. The company would be willing to negotiate with homeowners located more than 100 feet away.
Smith said the three methane digesters will be above-ground, stainless steel tanks imported from Europe. He said each will be around 100 feet in diameter and approximately 20 feet high. He said he is prepared to paint the tanks any neutral color the town and neighbors want in order to make them as unobtrusive as possible.
Once the methane is separated from the manure and food waste, it would be sent through a “gas upgrade plant,” endowed with a 40-foot-tall stack, to strip out carbon dioxide and impurities. The resulting biogas would be sent through the 4-inch pipeline and would eventually be commingled with the natural gas flowing through the Addison Natural Gas Project.
Middlebury College has tentatively agreed to a 10-year contract with EIS to receive the biogas.
“It will go to our central heating plant to make steam that heats the campus and generates electricity,” said Jack Byrne, director of the college’s Office of Sustainability Integration. “It will make the steam and electricity produced here even greener.”
Added Byrne: “It will be a net benefit for the college and the farm community.”
Neighbors, however, are apprehensive about the project for several reasons. Their concerns include the appearance of the facility, and the prospect of seeing a steady influx of noisy manure- and food-waste-bearing trucks streaming back and forth within the rural neighborhood.
Bailey said Shard Villa Road already sees a lot of truck trips associated with crop, dairy and feed operations at the Goodrich Farm and its other nearby properties. Then there is the commuter traffic, school bus traffic, errand-related traffic and the walkers, joggers and bike tours that cling to the scant shoulders of the road.
“It’s intense,” she said of the traffic during the early morning and early evening.
She and other neighbors argued that the facility would be best suited for Middlebury’s industrial park, or perhaps more toward the northern end of Shard Villa Road.
Smith estimates an additional four to six additional trucks in the neighborhood each day as a result of the project. These would be manure tankers and regular dump trucks, he said. They would be equipped with regular road tires and not the wider, noisier “floater tires” that are often associated with manure trucks, according to Smith.
“They will be less intrusive,” he said of the trucks.
He said he is prepared to talk to Salisbury officials about the toll the delivery trucks could take on local roads. Smith has lined up around four farms thus far as potential providers of manure for the digesters.
Bailey wonders what the town of Middlebury’s reaction would be if some of the manure trucks started making trips through the downtown en route to the Goodrich Farm. Smith said he does not anticipate trucks will travel through downtown Middlebury.
Salisbury resident Brennan Michaels and her family travel Shard Villa Road just about every day and have lived in the neighborhood for years. She said she is one of around 15 neighbors with concerns and questions about the project, questions she hoped to see answered at Wednesday night’s meeting.
She stressed that she doesn’t know anyone who is opposed to the methane digesters. Rather, people are concerned about where those devices would be placed, according to Michaels.
Shard Villa Road is already a challenge for bikers when trying to share the road with two lanes of traffic, Michaels said. Add more trucks and it could result in bikers and pedestrians being pushed onto road shoulders containing ledge and rocks, according to Michaels, who also voiced concerns about potential odor and noise from the large vehicles.
She and other neighbors are also concerned that the biogas operation might expand if it proves successful, thus potentially adding more traffic and bio-methane digester-related infrastructure.
Heidi Willis lives on Shard Villa Road. She, too, is concerned about potential traffic, noise and odor, but added she is willing to put up with some inconvenience in order to further the cause of renewable energy development in the county.
“I think we need to do what we can to get off fossil fuels; we don’t have a lot of time,” Willis said. “We have to balance out our (energy) choices, and those choices are narrowing.”
Willis likes the fact that the EIS plan would keep the Goodrich Farm and other farms in agriculture, help the college reduce its carbon footprint, reduce the phosphorous content of manure that might otherwise get into the state’s waterways, and produce cow bedding and fertilizer byproducts.
The operation will have to secure an Act 250 permit, a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board and a local zoning permit in order to proceed, according to Smith.
“I’m very sensitive to the concerns that have been raised,” Smith said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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