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

Dane County and Gundersen Health System Break Ground on Second Cow Power Facility

May 30, 2013
Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive 608.267.8823 or cell, 608.843.8858

Three-Farm Community Manure Digester Will Produce Cleaner Energy, Keep Twice the Amount of Phosphorus Out of Area Lakes


Construction of the county’s second Cow Power project has begun, paving the way for cleaner lakes and enough clean electricity to power 2,500 homes, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced at a groundbreaking ceremony today. 


Surrounded by rolling hills, happy cows, and with construction equipment poised to begin work, County Executive Parisi was joined for the historic event by Gundersen Health System executives, dairy farmers, and state and local officials at the Ziegler Dairy Farm west of Middleton.

“Today is an exciting day for Dane County that was made possible through years of hard work and a historic partnership between government, the private sector, and local farmers,” said Parisi.  “Our second Cow Power digester will help clean up our lakes, generate home-grown renewable energy, and keep our farm families farming for generations to come.”


Dane County and Gundersen Health System partnered with three family farms in the Town of Springfield – the Ziegler Dairy Farm, the Blue Star Dairy (owned by the Meinholz family), and the  Hensen Brothers Dairy. 


Once complete, the digester will use state-of-the-art technology to reduce algae-producing phosphorus from running off farm fields into the Lake Mendota watershed and the Yahara chain of lakes.


The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’s (DNR) environmental assessment reports that this second Cow Power facility will keep twice the amount of phosphorus from entering our waters when compared to the first digester in Waunakee due to its proximity to the Pheasant Branch Creek just 500 feet away.


The new facility, owned by the LaCrosse, Wisconsin-based Gundersen Health System, will help Gundersen reach goals outlined in their Envision® environmental stewardship program – to achieve energy independence in 2014 by reducing pollution and improving health. 


 “Projects like this one get to the core of what our Envision®  program is all about and it aligns with our mission of improving the health in Wisconsin communities. We are proud to partner with Dane County and the farm families on this important project,” comments Bob Trine, senior vice president at Gundersen Health System.


The digester will account for approximately 14 percent of Gundersen’s energy independence goal.   The project, along with Gundersen’s Envision®  program will help reduce the cost of healthcare.


Dane County is providing Gundersen $3.3 million in construction funding it received from the State of Wisconsin in 2010.  The funding will cover a portion of the project’s cost.


The digester will also help farmers provide safe management of millions of gallons of raw manure that will no longer be spread on farm fields, preventing excessive phosphorus run-off into the lakes, and manure orders that are a nuisance to nearby homes.   The digester also has emergency manure storage capabilities for neighboring farms that may have storage difficulties during excessively long, wet, winters and springs. 


Partnerships with Dane County’s farm families have been essential to recent, unprecedented efforts to clean up area lakes and waterways.  Dane County has 400 dairy farms, which equates to approximately 50,000 dairy cows. Dairy farming is a $550-million a year industry in the county that supports 3,000 jobs.


“Our Springfield cow power project is a victory for family dairy farms and our environment,” said Art Meinholz, of Blue Star Dairy, a multi-generational, family-owned and operated dairy since 1946.   “Dairy farming is vital to Dane County’s economy and this project will help farmers safely manage manure and protect our lakes.”


The digester operation is expected to generate about 16 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power approximately 2,500 homes.  The electricity will be added to the grid in Dane County through Madison Gas and Electric.


"By paying a premium for electricity from this digester, MGE customers are helping clean one of our community's most precious assets  -  our beautiful lakes and streams," said Gary Wolter, Chairman, CEO and President of Madison Gas and Electric Company.


Because of the methane released by untreated manure, the digester will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The state DNR estimates that the facility by treating manure and replacing coal-fired electricity with renewable electricity, the digester will reduce emissions by 22,000 tons per year – equivalent to the CO2 emissions from over 4,000 cars.


Parisi noted that the county plans to add game-changing manure treatment technology to the digester after construction that will remove 100% of the phosphorus that’s found in manure.  Parisi included $300,000 in this year’s county budget to fund the innovative technology, which will convert liquid manure into clean water and more useable fertilizer products.  A business plan is currently underway for the new technology.


US Biogas is the digester’s project developer.  The Wisconsin-based construction management firm CG Schmidt, builders of Milwaukee Art Museum's Calatrava addition and recently UW-Madison’s new Union South, will provide the design and construction for the digester and surrounding facilities.


More than two years ago Dane County was the first county in the state to construct a cow powered community manure digester, located near Waunakee.   Approximately 60 subcontractors and suppliers and 230 workers built the first cow power project. The second digester is expected to create a similar number of jobs.


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