Tillamook County, located on Oregon’s northern coast, is home to a concentration of dairy operations and with them, plenty of cow manure. Advances in the renewable energy industry have proven that an abundance of livestock waste is opportunity for sustainable economic development through domestic energy production.
This is possible with anaerobic digesters that use microbes and heat to break down animal waste and release methane biogas that is then captured and burned to produce electricity. With the latest generation of this technology, having a lot of cow manure means you can produce a lot of power.
“There is a tremendous resource in Tillamook County,” said Daryl Maas, co-owner of a private business that generates and sells renewable energy to utility companies and is now setting up operations in the local community.
Like all animal agriculture, dairies face particular challenges with managing and disposing of livestock waste in an environmentally friendly manner. Using anaerobic digesters removes odors and pathogens from the byproducts, which can be used as odor-, weed- and pathogen-free compost or animal bedding. The liquid byproduct can be field-applied as environmentally friendly and nutrient-rich fertilizer. Methane in the manure is captured before it can enter the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas and used to produce energy.
According to Maas, dairy farmers have been increasingly drawn to the concept, but don’t have the time or expertise to install and manage a digester facility. Small systems may bring in extra income, or they might generate power revenue to cover the cost of the digester. “Dairy farmers were telling me, ‘this sounds interesting, but we’re not going to do it,’” he explained.
That’s what inspired the entrepreneurial spirit in Maas and his brother and partner, Kevin to go into business producing and selling renewable energy alongside dairies in Oregon, Washington and California. Today, their company, Farm Power Northwest, is operating two digesters and constructing another three.
Support from USDA Rural Development plays a key role in helping Farm Power Northwest and similar ventures bring digesters into the arena of commercially viable enterprise. “Projects like this are good for the environment and good for rural economies,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Vicki Walker.
“The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is one of USDA’s key mechanisms to encourage renewable energy advancements in the U.S. The program is designed to help meet President Obama’s goal of developing a reliable, sustainable supply of domestic energy,” Walker said.
USDA Rural Development provided Farm Power Northwest with REAP funding in the form of a $100,000 grant and a $2.65 million loan guarantee for construction of the Farm Power Tillamook facility. Another REAP grant of $500,000 and a $1 million guarantee will allow the company to construct the Farm Power Misty Meadow later this year. The total cost to build the two facilities is nearly $9 million.