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Energy plant proposed for Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — A Massachusetts-based company is seeking state permission to build a “resource recovery center” in Middlebury’s industrial park that would derive energy from wastewater supplied by several local manufacturers, energy that would be funneled into Vermont’s electricity grid.
PurposeEnergy Inc. of Woburn is proposing the project — still in the early planning stages — on land at 183 Industrial Ave. that is owned by local businessman Tony Neri. PurposeEnergy will need a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Utilities Commission (PUC) if it is to proceed with its plan, which would use an anaerobic digester to extract energy from organic wastewater generated by a handful of industrial park tenants, most prominently the Agri-Mark/Cabot cheese plant and Otter Creek Brewing. It’s a technology similar to Green Mountain Power’s “Cow Power” program, only the PurposeEnergy plant would process wastewater from beverage/dairy companies, as opposed to cow manure.
“We’ve been looking to develop a project in Middlebury for a lot of years,” PurposeEnergy Founder and CEO Eric Fitch told Middlebury selectboard members at a recent meeting. “The obvious reason is there’s a nice industrial park here with real estate available. You’ve got a couple of manufacturers here that generate a lot of organic byproducts through their manufacturing process.”
He specifically cited partnerships with Agri-Mark/Cabot and Otter Creek Brewing, two of Middlebury’s largest industries. But Fitch added his company is reaching out to other potential industrial park clients, including Vermont Hard Cider Co., Aqua ViTea, and local distilleries.
Fitch touted the environmental advantages of the anaerobic digestion process, which he said extracts the high organic content from the wastewater and converts it into power that would be sold to the state through a state program and distributed through the grid via Green Mountain Power.
Along with power, the process generates gas, a concentrated solid and water. The water would be stripped of its organic content and therefore be much easier for municipal wastewater treatment plants to handle, according to Fitch.
“Think of us as a pre-treatment plant,” he said during a Friday morning phone interview.
Fitch added the proposed industrial park anaerobic digester would help participating businesses comply with a provision of the state’s universal recycling law that requires organic material be diverted from landfills by July 2020.
Middlebury officials are hopeful the PurposeEnergy plan might take some stress off the town’s wastewater treatment plant. That plant, also located in the town’s industrial park, is currently being sized up for major renovations as its 20th birthday approaches.
“We’re watching our (wastewater) load as part of the requirements we put on our wastewater system now,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said.
PurposeEnergy is brokering a deal with Middlebury’s Foster Brothers Farm to receive the solid byproduct from the anaerobic digestion process and potentially use it in its popular line of gardening material, including MOO DOO, according to Fitch.
Company officials continue to work on a plan to get wastewater from clients to the new digester. They explored short-distance trucking, but officials believe the most cost-effective and environmentally sensible solution would be to pump the wastewater through a new pipeline to 183 Industrial Avenue.
“We’re working with Dubois & King (engineers) on some preliminary proposals on how we could pipe the material… ” Fitch told the selectboard.
PurposeEnergy has already built — or is in the process of building — five anaerobic digesters throughout the country to serve businesses generating organic waste, according to Fitch. He specifically pointed to a digester his company installed in South Burlington in 2010 to serve the Magic Hat Brewing Company. To passersby that digester looks like a fairly nondescript, big brown tank that handles all the brewery’s waste, with additional material supplied by nearby businesses like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and some local distilleries. That facility also processed some wastewater from the town of Middlebury following a spill, Fitch said.
Selectboard members gave the PurposeEnergy proposal good reviews, and agreed to waive the statutory requirement that the company give the town 45 days notice prior to filing its permit application with the PUC.
“I like this,” Selectman Nick Artim said of the plan. “This is the type of renewable that strikes me as actually reliable… It’s not suddenly impacted by a (passing) cloud or loss of wind… This is very interesting to me, and I’m for it.”
“I think in spirit, we’re all in favor of anything that could reduce waste and puts it to better use,” Carpenter said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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