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Biogas site set at farm

Construction has started on a $7 million renewable energy facility in Wyoming County that would be the first independently owned and operated plant of its kind on a dairy farm.
 
The mixed-waste anaerobic digestion and renewable energy facility is expected to be completed in the fall and also will house one of the largest on-farm digesters in the state.
 
The project is being done by CH4 Biogas LLC of Florida.
 
CH4 will build, own and operate the biogas facility on a 2,000-cow dairy farm in Covington called Synergy Dairy LLC. The two entities will form Synergy Biogas LLC, which will provide a site for the facility and provide manure under a 25-year lease and supply agreement.
 
The facility will produce renewable energy by anaerobically digesting manure from the dairy and food-grade organic waste from food processors in the region, officials said. As anaerobic digestion unlocks the energy value in manure, it reduces odors and greenhouse gas emissions and leaves a nutrient-rich product for use as fertilizer.
 
Synergy Biogas will provide more than 10,000 megawatt-hours per year of renewable energy to the grid-electricity to power more than 1,000 homes annually-and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 8,500 tons of carbon dioxide per year, its leaders said.
 
The operation will be the first biogas plant in the state designed for co-digestion of manure with food-grade organic waste, said Bob Blythe, president of CH4 Biogas.
 
The U.S. Department of Energy touts the benefits of biogas. In addition to reducing odors and creating fertilizer, it says, anaerobic digestion systems treat waste naturally, require less land area than aerobic composting and reduce the amount of material that must be landfilled.
 
John Noble, president of Synergy LLC and co-owner of the dairy, said one main benefit of the project is creating sustainable energy that has the potential to improve the dairy’s operational efficiency.
 
"Quite a few farmers in this region are all about doing things in a sustainable fashion," Noble said. "We want to use the resources we have to benefit the community."
 
Noble also is founder of Linwood Management Group LLC, a company responsible for managing more than 15,000 cows on dairies in New York and Wisconsin. He is familiar with the anaerobic digesters used in the renewable energy facility, having had one on his home dairy for years before it was destroyed by a fire.
 
Noble also had known Blythe prior to this business arrangement. Blythe has more than 30 years of experience in environmental services and agriculture. His experience includes having owned and operated an agricultural consulting business that provided field scouting services and developed crop production for grain and vegetable farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region.
 
In addition to Blythe, CH4 Biogas is led by Chairman Karsten Buchhave, who owns Bigaden A/S Denmark, a firm that builds biogas facilities overseas, and CEO Paul Toretta, an engineer and entrepreneur.
 
Blythe said biogas facilities require little staffing, typically one full-time operator per site. CH4 has hired Randy Mastin of Pavilion to serve as construction and operations manager. Mastin most recently was construction department manager for Stantec Consulting Services Inc. in Rochester.
 
Project leaders expect the facility to be finished in early fall, and CH4 Biogas is seeking a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for another facility near Castile, Wyoming County, that would use manure from two dairies and food waste from regional sources.
 
The Castile facility will be similar to the Synergy project, with two digester vessels.
 
CH4 Biogas also is developing biogas projects in Lewis and Oneida counties and in other parts of the country. It is working on a regional biogas plant in Napoleon, Ohio, to serve the Campbell Soup Co. plant there.
 
Such facilities receive revenue from the sale of electricity, renewable energy credits and carbon credits, as well as tipping fees for handling the food waste, Blythe said.
 
Blythe said there are no direct state grant programs for projects such as Synergy, but he noted that Synergy had been awarded a $1 million grant through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that was used to develop anaerobic digester gas for electricity projects. Of that amount, $350,000 goes toward capital and $650,000 will be used to purchase renewable energy credits over a three-year period.
 
Also, projects under construction by the end of this year and in operation by 2013 will qualify for some federal funding through a U.S. Treasury grant, he said.
 
Blythe said this is a good time to construct such renewable energy facilities, noting that 22 states-including New York-have renewable portfolio standards or other mandates requiring electric utilities to increase their use of renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and biomass, creating a market for renewable energy credits and increasing the value of energy generated from renewable sources.
 
Blythe said the Northeast and Northwest are good choices to build such plants, given their livestock agriculture, food-processing facilities and relatively high energy prices. Wyoming County, for example, already has four of the 16 digesters in the state, he said.
 
"There is a good combination of materials that can support this type of business," Blythe said.

6/10/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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