Representatives from Middlebury College, Vanguard Renewables, Vermont Gas, Goodrich Farm and the state of Vermont gathered Aug. 20 at Goodrich Farm in Salisbury, Vt., to mark the official groundbreaking for an anaerobic digester.
The facility will combine cow manure and food waste to create renewable natural gas (RNG) as part of a project to meet Middlebury College’s goal of using 100% renewable energy sources. The college will be the primary consumer of the RNG produced at the dairy farm.
During the event, speakers from each organization discussed the facility, which will be the largest anaerobic digester east of the Mississippi River, according to the announcement from Vermont Gas.
“One of the key components of Middlebury’s 'Energy 2028' plan is to shift the college completely to the use of renewable energy,” said David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration at Middlebury College. “The digester is fundamental to this change.”
Middlebury president Laurie Patton added, “Another exciting aspect of the digester is how it further connects the college to the local community and Vermont. The college’s interest in pursuing the facility also reflects our long-standing commitment to innovative environmental education and sustainability projects. Building on our carbon neutrality initiative, it will provide our students and faculty with new research and teaching opportunities.”
Construction on the farm-powered anaerobic digester will be completed in 2020. RNG produced there will travel by pipeline to Middlebury College’s main power plant. Once the digester is operating, the gas it creates will supply about half of the energy Middlebury uses for heating and cooling. The college’s biomass plant will continue to produce the other 50%. Both sources provide some of the college’s electricity, the announcement said.
Wellesley, Mass.-based Vanguard Renewables will build, own and operate the digester, which will process 100 tons of manure and 180 tons of organic food waste daily into RNG. Vanguard is currently contacting local and Vermont-based food manufacturers to source the food waste. Vermont Gas has begun construction on a five-mile pipeline that will connect the farm with the company’s pipeline network in Addison County.
The digester’s benefits to the farm include free heat for on-farm use, high-quality liquid fertilizer that will reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers and a reduction in the farm’s phosphorus levels and greenhouse gas emissions, the announcement said.
An annual lease payment for hosting the digester will diversify the farm’s revenue sources, Vermont Gas said. Located on more than 2,400 acres, Goodrich Farm is a generational family dairy farm with 900 milking cows. It is a member of the Agri-Mark Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
“Our family is excited to see this project transition from a dream into a reality,” said Chase Goodrich, who is among the fourth generation of his family to operate the farm. “The digester has been under discussion for a very long time, and now we could not be more encouraged to move our farm in a new direction.
“We constantly seek innovative ways to be good stewards of the land and practice sustainable and viable agriculture,” he added. “The digester will help to continue to make this possible.”
“This is a unique partnership between a Vermont college, local dairy farm, utility and renewable energy company,” said John Hanselman, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Vanguard Renewables. “The exciting result will be a sustainable source of energy that didn’t previously exist and the recycling of tons of organic waste that was once sent to landfills. The project will also enable food producers and users in Vermont to comply with Act 148, Vermont’s Universal Recycling law, that bans all food waste from landfills and goes into effect in 2020.
“The collaboration with Middlebury is our first with a college,” Hanselman added. “There isn’t another college in the country that’s in a partnership with a digester. Middlebury is a true leader in this regard.”
Vanguard currently owns and operates five other digesters, all of which are located in Massachusetts. The facility at Goodrich Farm will be the company’s first in Vermont. The digester is expected to produce 180,000 Mcf per year (one Mcf is 1,000 cu. ft. of renewable natural gas). The college will buy 100,000 Mcf of the gas from Vanguard, Vermont Gas will buy 40,000 Mcf and Vanguard will retain 40,000 Mcf.
“The project is an exciting development in Vermont’s dairy industry, and the Goodrich family deserves credit for their leadership,” Vermont secretary of agriculture Anson Tebbetts said. “We hope a project like this sparks more innovative partnerships that include other Vermont farms.”
“Our energy landscape is changing, faster than ever. Vermont Gas is committed to be a leader in this transformation,” Vermont Gas president and CEO Don Rendall said. “Through innovation, efficiency and adding renewable natural gas to our fuel supply, we are giving customers essential tools to reduce their carbon footprint and make Vermont even greener in the decades ahead. We are the first local distribution company in the country to offer customers renewable natural gas service. This project will bring a local source of RNG, helping a local farm, enhancing local sustainability [and] contributing to our local economy."
Middlebury College, Vanguard Renewables, Vermont Gas and Goodrich Farm announced their partnership in 2017, but the college and the Goodrich family have been working on the digester project in various forms for more than a decade.