Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

Cow-Power Project Moves Toward Final County Board Approval

June 17, 2010
Joshua Wescott, Office of the County Executive (608) 267-8823 or cell (608) 669-5606

 State’s First Community Manure Digester Nearing Construction Go-Ahead

The Dane County Cow-Power Project is scheduled to take a major step forward tonight as the County Board of Supervisors will consider final approval of a resolution approving agreements between the County, project owner Clear Horizons LLC and the State of Wisconsin.  Three Town of Vienna dairy farms are the first cluster of farms in Wisconsin to develop a community digester and one of a small number of digesters in the nation slated to remove much of the algae-producing phosphorous.

“Our Cow-Power Project is a victory for clean lakes for our citizens to enjoy, green energy, sustainable agriculture development, and local, good-paying green jobs,” said Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.  “Our efforts to safeguard water quality by reducing algae-producing phosphorus and create green electricity will help ensure the future of family dairy farms and clean lakes in Dane County.”

In February, sixteen Dane County Supervisors introduced the “Clean Energy and Clean Lakes Resolution” to build a community digester to provide green energy, jobs and cleaner lakes. The resolution has received unanimous approval from three County Board committees.

The Board of Supervisors will also consider an initial resolution  for the issuance of $6 million of tax-exempt Recovery Zone Facility bonds that will help finance the project. This is the first step in the approvals required to issue these bonds.  None of the liability, risk and costs of the bonds will be borne by the County, but will be borne by Clear Horizons, a Wisconsin-based biogas energy developer. The Federal government through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus program allocated the bonds to Dane County as an incentive for projects in communities experiencing economic and fiscal distress.  The program allows private companies to borrow using recovery zone bonds to finance projects to create local jobs at a lower interest rate because the interest paid to the bond purchasers is exempt from federal income tax.  The Dane County Board of Supervisors and County Executive formally designated the County as a recovery zone by resolution in September, 2009.

In addition to private financing provided by Clean Horizons for the $12 million facility, project financing of $3.3 million to remove much of the phosphorus from the manure has been awarded by the State of Wisconsin as a result of Governor Jim Doyle’s request and the Legislature’s approval of $6.6 million for two community manure digesters that will aid Dane County’s efforts to clean up the lakes, strengthen the family dairy industry and increase production of renewable energy.

The digester will provide a number of important benefits:

·         First, algae-producing phosphorus is the biggest cause of pollution in the Yahara Lakes Watershed and for the first time three farms using a manure digester with advance separation technology will remove much of the phosphorus.  The facility will reduce total phosphorus from the manure by up to 70%. 

·         Second, from a farming perspective, the digester will allow farms to better address nutrient management issues and will substantially lessen the need to spread the manure on distant fields, which generates environmental problems, especially if spreading has to occur on frozen ground in the winter or spring. 

·         Third, nuisance odors:  Waunakee continues to expand towards the dairies.  Controlling nuisance odors will become a requirement for the dairies as new residential and business subdivisions expand into the area.   A digester system will mitigate odor problems.

·         Fourth, the project will produce approximately 2 megawatts or $2 million of green electricity to be purchased by Alliant Energy every year by burning methane gas produced by the digester – enough energy to power 2,500 homes in Dane County.

·         Fifth, because of the methane released by untreated manure, digesters are also recognized for their contribution in controlling greenhouse gases.  The potential methane emission reduction from eliminating the long-term lagoon storage of the manure is estimated at approximately 10,000 metric tons per year of equivalent CO2.   This is equivalent to the CO2 emissions from driving approximately 25 million miles/year.

·         Sixth, building the digester will create about 15 good-paying, green construction jobs while 3 full-time permanent positions will be created to operate it.

The construction of the manure digester is the next step in the initiative that began in 2005 when winter liquid manure spills caused several fish kills and dumped phosphorus into Lake Mendota prompting County Executive Falk to call for the ban of winter liquid manure spreading and the creation of a manure management task force.  The task force of County Board supervisors, farmers, utilities and environmentalists resulted in the passage of the first local ordinance in Wisconsin regulating the winter spreading of manure.

Pending approval in July by the Department of Natural Resources of air and water permits, digester construction go-ahead is about one month away.


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