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Farm gets federal aid to change manure to electricity

26 October 2011 One Comment
By JIM HOOK; Staff writer

A Shippensburg area dairy is expected to be producing electricity from its manure within a year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that it is helping to fund a $1.3 million biodigester at Hard Earned Acres, 1317 Ritner Highway.

A digester will convert manure to methane and methane to electricity on the 820-cow farm owned by Robert and Barbara Keefer. The project has several sources of funding:

• $331,709 grant from the USDA Rural Energy for America Program;

• $450,000 grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Chesapeake Bay Initiative;

• $300,000 grant from the Commonwealth Finance Agency;

• $245,000 loan from the Commonwealth Finance Agency.

“They will end up with enough kilowatt hours to run their farm, plus 550,000 kilowatts they will be selling to the grid,” said Tom Williams, state director of Pennsylvania Rural Development.

The digester also will produce solids that can be used for bedding for the cows and heat that can be used for making hot wash water.The farm will see an immediate payoff, according to Williams.

The USDA also announced REAP grants totaling $1.2 million to three other farms in central Pennsylvania:

• The 320-cow Reinford-Frymoyer Farm in Mifflintown;

• Arllin Benner’s Yippee Farms in Mount Joy with 1,600 cows;

• Jay Clifford Sensenig’s farm in Kirkwood with 50 cows, 2,200 pigs and 30,000 hens.

The four projects represent 21 percent of all anaerobic digester projects in the nation for the past year.

Pennsylvania spent its $1.7 million in REAP allocations for 2011 on 50 smaller ($20,000 or less) projects, according to Williams. The four large projects competed nationally for money that was not used in other states.

“You don’t often see grants going to private business or farms, as is the case here,” Williams said.

The USDA has funded 14 anaerobic digester projects in Pennsylvania with nine of them in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. An anaerobic digester project takes eight to 10 months to complete and employs engineers, excavators, electricians, plumbers, masons and concrete contractors.

“This program creates jobs, increases energy efficiency and reduces carbon emissions,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “It also provides producers with new opportunities to create revenue and compete globally.”

During climate change talks in December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark,Vilsack signed an agreement to help U.S. dairy producers cut greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement between USDA and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms by 25 percent by 2020.

Rural Development is trying to find technology that will enable a typical Pennsylvania dairy to produce electricity with a digester, according to Williams.

Pennsylvania has plenty of dairy farms, but they are small. Methane digesters make sense for large dairies, those with more than 800 cows, but not the typical Pennsylvania dairy. In Franklin County, Pennsylvania’s No. 2 dairy county, the average dairy farmer milks 100 cows.

Three smaller farms in Franklin County are experimenting with methane digesters as part of a demonstration project.

NativeEnergy and Environmental Credit Corp.

have teamed up to build the digesters and to trade carbon credits.

“It will probably be up and running in a couple of months,” said Jack Martin, whose 230-cow dairy at Zullinger is part of the project.

Workers on Wednesday were installing pipes from the manure pit to the digester, he said. Manure from his cows will power a methane-fueled generator producing 55,000 kilowatts.

The two other small farms in the $1.3 million, 10-year pilot project are Ben Peckman’s Slate Ridge Farm in St. Thomas and Sherwin and Becky Brechbill’s dairy at Duffield.

The Keefers in Shippensburg will decide whether to trade in carbon and nutrient credits, according to Williams.

REAP was created in the 2002 Farm Bill and in eight years across the U.S. has created or saved an estimated 13.4 billion kWh of electricity, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 14.5 million metric tons, assisted about 9,600 businesses, farmers and ranchers, and created or saved an estimated 15,000 jobs. The REAP program in fiscal 2011 provided more than $20 million in assistance for biodigesters and leveraged $110 million in other funds. Grants can finance up to 25 percent of a project’s cost, not to exceed $500,000 for renewables or $250,000 for efficiency.

“We’re accepting applications (for 2012),” Williams said. “We’re waiting to see what the funding level will be from Washington. I’m sure it will be less.”

———- Jim Hook can be reached at 262-4759 and jhook@publicopinion- news.com.

One Comment »

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