Vermont Farms Turn on to Cow Power

Vermont Farms Turn on to Cow Power

Four Vermont farms have received CVPS Renewable Development Fund grant offers totaling $666,000 to defray the cost of building new farm-based electric generating systems to support the state's largest renewable energy program, Central Vermont Public Service has announced.
Farms in Sheldon, Fairlee, West Pawlet and St. Albans will receive the grants from the CVPS Renewable Development Fund, set up in 2004 to encourage farm owners to develop new renewable generation and provide new manure management options through CVPS Cow Power.

"These grants will help develop 8,400 megawatt-hours of clean renewable energy right here in Vermont," CVPS president Bob Young said. “That’s enough energy to supply 1,395 average homes using 500 kWh per month.”

CVPS Cow Power is the nation’s only direct farm-to-consumer renewable energy program, working with dairy farmers who want to process their cow manure and other farm waste to generate electricity. More than 2,500 CVPS customers have enrolled in the program so far, which provides farms with new manure management options, environmental benefits and income. The process reduces emissions of methane, which is roughly 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The four farms include:
  • Green Mountain Dairy Farm in Sheldon, owned by Brian and Bill Rowell, with 1,250 cows expected to produce 1.7 million kilowatt-hours per year;

  • Montagne Farms in St. Albans, two farms owned by Dave Montagne, with 1,200 cows expected to produce 1.7 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year;

  • Newmont Farms LLC in Fairlee, owned by Walter and Margaret Gladstone, with 1,020 cows expected to produce 1.4 million kilowatt-hours per year;

  • And Deer Flats Farm in West Pawlet, owned by Dick and Rich Hulett, who plan to use surplus crops and 210 cows to produce 3.6 million kilowatt-hours per year.
The farms need Vermont Public Service Board approval to interconnect the generators, but all hope to be online later this year.

CVPS’s first Cow Power producer, Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, has been generating energy for over a year, serving as an example to other farms. The Audet family, which operates Blue Spruce, says they have a new revenue stream, eliminated over $60,000 in bedding costs annually by using dry solids left over from the digestion process, and substantially cut fuel bills by using waste heat from the generator to heat the office, the milking parlor, and hot water used for washing the milking equipment.

“Cow Power has done everything we’d hoped it would do for us, and more,” Earl Audet said. “It’s given us a new income stream, reduced our costs, provided us options for handling our manure, and virtually eliminated the odor of manure spreading.”

CVPS customers can sign up to get all, half or a quarter of their electrical energy through CVPS Cow Power. Customers pay a premium of 4 cents per kilowatt hour for CVPS Cow Power, which goes to participating farm-producers, to purchase renewable energy credits when enough farm energy isn’t available, or to the CVPS Renewable Development Fund. Farm-producers are also paid 95 percent of the market price for the electricity sold to CVPS.

To generate the biogas fuel, manure is held in a sealed concrete tank at the same temperature as a cow’s stomach, 101 degrees. Bacteria digest the volatile components of the manure, creating biogas while killing pathogens and weed seeds. The biogas, which is part methane, fuels an engine/generator, and the energy is put onto CVPS’s power lines for delivery to customers.

“The Cow Power program is a great example of Vermonters working together to reduce pollution and help the Vermont economy,” said Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation, a member of the CVPS Renewable Development Fund’s executive committee. “The ingenuity of many Vermonters has made this a success, and it shows how promising renewable energy is for our future.”