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

Construction of Dane County “Cow Power” Facility Complete, Electrical Generation Begins

March 31, 2011
Joshua Wescott, Office of the County Executive (608) 267-8823 or cell (608) 669-5606
County Executive

County Executive Announces Site for Second Digester in Lake Mendota Watershed


Construction of Dane County’s unique “Cow Power” facility is complete and it’s generating about $2-million a year in electricity, enough to power 2,500 homes, County Executive Kathleen Falk announced today.


Falk was joined today by local and state officials, farmers, representatives of Clear Horizons (the private company operating the facility) and Alliant Energy for a ribbon cutting and official kick-off of the new facility north of Waunakee.


Falk noted in addition to generating millions of dollars worth of “green energy” each year, Dane County’s innovative “Cow Power” project also means millions of gallons of manure aren’t spread on farmland that runs off into the Lake Mendota watershed.  That means less pollution for the Yahara Chain of Lakes.


“Because of this first-of-its-kind digester, we will have bluer lakes and 2,500 cows producing both milk and valuable electricity to power our homes and businesses,” Falk said.  “We’re turning millions of gallons of manure into millions of dollars worth of clean, home grown, green energy.”


Falk noted the “Cow Power” facility holds over three million gallons of manure and converts it into electricity and a high-quality compost  that can be used in bulk as a fertilizer or bagged and sold for use in nurseries and backyard gardens. A semi-truck load or two of that compost is trucked out of the watershed fromDane County’s “Cow Power” digester every day and sold to a wholesaler for distribution to retailers across the state and region.


“We would like to thank all those who contributed to the successful construction of this plant and are excited to be moving to the operational phase of this project,” Dan Nemke of Clear Horizons said. 


This is the first manure digester in Wisconsin that’s shared between several farms and among only a few in the entire country that uses advanced technology to substantially remove phosphorus, the leading cause of algae and weed growth in  Dane County’s lakes.  It’s the first known digester in the country to be both shared by neighboring farms and remove this pollutant to this extent.  This is important because studies have found one of the primary sources of phosphorus is cow manure. 


 Dane County and the Wisconsin-based company Clear Horizons partnered on this project with three family farms in the Towns of Vienna and Dane - - the Ripps’ the Endres’ and the Maiers’. 


“Our Cow Power project is a victory for family dairy farms and our lakes,” farmer Chuck Ripp said. “Agriculture can help to keep our lakes blue while creating green energy that will help sustain Dane County's important economy."


“Alliant Energy is pleased to be purchasing electricity from a facility that both provides renewable energy for our customers and does so in an environmentally-friendly manner,” said John Kratchmer, Alliant Energy’s Vice President of Energy Delivery. “Our company worked with the facility’s operator in making significant upgrades to our distribution system to accommodate the digester and we are now delighted that it is completely operational.”


Construction of the digester began in August.  Over 25 subcontractors and 200 workers built the new “Cow Power” facility.


Falk also announced today a site has been tentatively selected for the location of Dane County’s second “Cow Power” facility.  As proposed, this new digester would be shared between four family farms in the Township of Springfield, just outside of Middleton.  The four farms are the Ziegler Dairy Farm, Wagner Dairy, Blue Star Dairy, and the Hensen Brothers Farm.


This second manure digester will have the same phosphorus removal technology and also be built, owned and operated by Clear Horizons LLC.  Clear Horizons, Dane County, and the four farm families are working together on a proposed design and construction schedule.  Pending final approvals, construction of this second digester is expected to begin later this year.  Electricity generated by this digester will be sold to Madison Gas and Electric. 


County Executive Kathleen Falk pioneered development of these innovative digesters in Dane County as a way to reduce the amount of algae-producing phosphorus that runs off into local lakes.  Because of the uniqueness of this project and the belief it can serve as a model for future digesters shared by neighboring farmers across the state and region, one of reasons Falk ran for re-election in 2009 was to see through completion of this first digester project that she began to work on in 2005.


These facilities not only generate green energy and reduce pollution run-off, they significantly reduce unpleasant odors and help farmers with the storage and management of manure which can otherwise be costly to dispose of.


“Dairy farming is big business in our county - - it’s a $700 million a year industry that employs 4,000 people,” Falk said.  “Ensuring the future of family dairy farms by helping our farmers safely manage manure and safeguard water quality is good for both our agricultural economy and our environment.”