New venture to turn manure and food waste into energy

MIDDLEBURY — A Salisbury farm will soon be turning on-site cow manure and Addison County food waste into renewable energy that will push Middlebury College’s campus beyond its goal of carbon neutrality.
The Goodrich Farm will host a Farm Powered-brand anaerobic digester that will, on a daily basis, process 100 tons of manure from the 900-cow farm off Shard Villa Road and 165 tons of organic food waste per day from some of the Middlebury area’s biggest organizations, including the Agri-Mark/Cabot cheese making plant in Middlebury.
“My job is to make sure that everyone in Vermont never looks at a half-eaten piece of pizza the same way again,” John Hanselman joked to those assembled at the project unveiling at Middlebury College’s Kirk Alumni Center on Thursday.
Hanselman is CEO of Vanguard Renewables, the Wellesley, Mass., company that is equipping the Goodrich Farm with the digester.
The anaerobic digester will process the waste and extract from it natural gas. A 4-inch-diameter pipe will transport the gas five miles from the Goodrich Farm to a Vermont Gas pipeline currently being installed in Middlebury. The college will become the top consumer of that product, which will add to a renewable energy portfolio that already includes biomass, solar and other non-fossil fuels.
The Goodrich Farm digester will produce 140,000 Mcf of gas per year. Mcf is a unit of measurement, 1 Mcf represents 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas.
According to a Vermont Gas press release, 14,000 Mcf per year is enough energy to heat over 140 homes — the Goodrich Farm digester will net 10 times that.
   VANGUARD RENEWABLES CEO John Hanselman, above, explains the process through which a large anaerobic digester at the Goodrich Farm in Salisbury will transform cow manure and organic food waste into natural gas at a meeting in Middlebury College’s Kirk Center last Thursday. Below, Chase Goodrich, a third-generation farmer at his family’s farm off Shard Villa Road in Salisbury, sits on a panel at last Thursday’s event.
Independent photos/Trent Campbell
Middlebury College will buy 100,000 Mcf of the Goodrich gas from Vanguard, and Vermont Gas will purchase the remainder that will be made available to its other customers — potentially at a premium price, according to company CEO Don Rendall. Vermont Gas markets this kind of digester-produced gas as “renewable natural gas,” or RNG.
In more conventional terms, the Goodrich Farm anaerobic digester will produce 2.2 Megawatts of power, which would be the “largest energy output of any digester in Vermont, and one of the largest in New England,” according to Hanselman.
Once patched into the system, the college will use oil at its heating plant only as a back-up energy source during extreme cold weather or other emergency situations, officials said.
Major players in the project trumpeted what they said were the many “win-win” scenarios the anaerobic digester would produce. They include:
• An annual lease payment to the Goodrich Farm — a three-generation agricultural operation — to provide financial stability during these times of low milk prices and escalating costs. The farm will also derive free heat from the digester, thereby reducing its energy costs. The liquid fertilizer byproduct of the anaerobic digestion process will be virtually odor-free and substantially devoid of phosphorous that has been creating water quality problems in Lake Champlain. The solid byproduct from the digestion process will provide bedding for the farm’s cows.
“This is a wonderful story about a Vermont farm and the future of farming in Vermont,” said David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration at Middlebury College. “We are excited about the breadth and depth of this project.”
•  A convenient disposal site for food waste, which state laws now forbid from being landfilled. Goodrich Farm will accept organic food waste from large producers at what officials guaranteed would be a lower cost than what they are now paying to dispose of it.
•  A steady source of renewable energy derived from substances that were either discarded or spread on fields with some negative environmental consequences.
It should be noted that Vanguard is the second company to attempt an anaerobic digester project at the Goodrich Farm. A previous company, Integrated Energy Solutions, withdrew from the project late last year citing financing issues.
But the Goodrich family continued to pursue the project, and their efforts appear to have paid off.
Vanguard officials agreed to inherit a plan that has already navigated most of the Section 248 permitting process through the Vermont Public Utility Commission.
“Had it not been for the tenacity of a Vermont farm family, we would not be here today,” Provost said.
Hanselman also gave credit to the 17 Vermont farms that have pioneered development of “Cow Power.” Vanguard, established in 2014, is now trying to export the anaerobic digester technology throughout the country, which currently counts around 220 such projects. Vanguard has introduced digesters on farms in Deerfield, Rutland and Hadley, Mass., and is working on facilities in Connecticut, New York, Nevada and California.
“Any farm with more than 250 cows could, and should, have a digester,” Hanselman said, noting the technology is widely used in Europe — particularly in Germany.
Rendall said the Goodrich project offers an opportunity to “think globally and act locally, and provide a sustainable energy source and a sustainable energy choice and opportunity for Vermont institutions, Vermont families, Vermont businesses and for our communities. We are going to achieve something really remarkable here.”
Chase Goodrich is excited to see the project finally become a reality. He said the Vanguard lease payments for the anaerobic digester will strengthen the farm.
“It’s a win across the board, every way you go,” he said.
Hanselman’s goal is to complete permitting for the digester within the next few months and begin construction during the late spring-early summer of 2018. This would culminate in the digester receiving waste and producing natural gas during the first quarter of 2019.
Around 60 people will be hired to build the Goodrich Farm project, according to Hanselman. It will take around five full-timers to operate the system once its completed, he said.
Jack Byrne, director of sustainability integration at the college, said the project will offer valuable academic benefits for students and faculty.
“This is an important step for Middlebury College from an operational standpoint, but it will also offer multiple educational and research opportunities for our students, just as our biomass plant has,” said Byrne.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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