UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — Upstate New York dairy farmer Doug Young has considered investing in an anaerobic biodigester for several years.
Now he's finally convinced the time is right, thanks in part to additional financial incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Young recently joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack in a conference call announcing the renewal of an initiative whose purpose is to promote waste-to-energy projects and energy efficiency improvements on farms, which help producers cut costs and create new revenue streams.
"I think this has potential to help dairy farmers around the world," said Young, owner of Spruce Haven, just south of Auburn, between Cayuga and Owasco lakes in New York's Finger Lakes region. "It's converting a liability (manure) into an asset (electricity)."
His farm, which has 1,800 milk cows, is also well-known for its work in dairy research and genetics.
The agreement, inked by Vilsack at an April 24 White House ceremony, extends a memorandum of understanding he first signed with dairy producers during the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.
Since then, the federal government has spent $53 million to help 178 dairy farmers obtain anaerobic digesters. The systems capture methane and produce renewable energy for on-farm use and sale onto the electric grid. Dairies with anaerobic digesters can generate enough electricity to power hundreds of homes per year.
"The dairy industry has always been proud of being the original environmentalist," said Tom Gallagher, CEO of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, who took part in the announcement. "When farmers are assisted with keeping their costs lower, it means more affordable food. We are all interested in sustainable agriculture and producing good food responsibly, while bolstering an important rural economy, and this new MOU lays out the roadmap for more improvements."
The center represents 50,000 dairy farms. Apart from the renewed MOU, the dairy industry collectively has committed to reducing greenhouse emissions 25 percent by 2020.
In addition to funding digesters, the USDA in the past four years has also:
Funded more than 350 energy audits to help farms identify how they can save money. "It's not about the size of the operation," Vilsack said. "Every operation can benefit from an audit."
Approved 18 conservation innovation grants for dairy-related projects.
Provided $257 million through the Natural Resources Conservation Service to help more than 6,000 dairy farmers plan and implement conservation practices to improve sustainability.
Vilsack said that tens of millions of dollars in additional funding will be made available for digesters and other energy-related projects moving forward.
"As more and more producers embrace this technology, farmers are going to do what farmers always do," Vilsack said. "If they see something their neighbor is doing that's successful, they're going to do it, too."
Vermont has been a leader in promoting the use of anaerobic digesters through its "Cow Power" program. Green Mountain Power customers can opt into the program by indicating that they want to buy electricity made from methane.
By doing so, they create demand for this type of power and provide incentives for farmers to get into the business of producing Cow Power.
However, such efforts are gaining momentum in other states, too, including New York. The Dairy Farmers of America Energy (DFA Energy) website says that NYSERDA has increased the maximum incentive for digesters to $2 million depending on the size of a project. Funding is being offered through a production incentive of $0.025/kWh paid for the first 10 years of operation in addition to a capacity incentive payment based on the equipment size (kW) of the system.
A total of $57 million has been authorized to fund incentive payments through 2015. For information see the link: http://www.energysavvy.com/rebates/NY/nyserda-anaerobic-digester-gas-to-electricity-rebate-and-performance-incentive-new-york-39/