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Vermont biogas consortium celebrate start of novel RNG project

In the United States (US), representatives from Middlebury College, Vanguard Renewables, Vermont Gas Systems, Goodrich Farm, and the State of Vermont met on August 20, 2019, at a Salisbury farm for the official groundbreaking for an anaerobic digester that will use manure and food waste to make Renewable Natural Gas (RNG).
"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, EVP Finance, Middlebury.

An overhead view of the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, Vt., shows the digester construction site on the left on August 20, 2019 (photo courtesy Middlebury College).

An overhead view of the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, Vt., shows the digester construction site on the left on August 20, 2019 (photo courtesy Middlebury College).

During the groundbreaking event held on August 20, 2019, speakers from each partner organization discussed the facility, which will be the largest anaerobic digestion (AD) plant east of the Mississippi River.

100% renewable energy goal

Founded in 1800, Middlebury College in Middlebury, Addison County, Vermont (VT) is a classic liberal arts college that also offers graduate and specialized programs operating around the world. The project is a milestone toward the College’s goal of using 100 percent renewable energy sources, and Middlebury will be the primary consumer of the renewable natural gas (RNG) produced at the dairy farm.

One of the key components of Middlebury’s Energy 2028 plan is to shift the College completely to the use of renewable energy. The digester is fundamental to this change said David Provost, Middlebury’s Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration.

Using 100 percent renewable energy sources is one of the components outlined in Middlebury’s Energy 2028 plan that the College announced in January. The 10-year plan also calls for reducing energy usage by 25 percent, divesting Middlebury’s endowment of investments in fossil fuels, and educating and involving the entire campus community in its implementation.

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 longstanding 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, said Laurie Patton, Middlebury President.

Unique partnership

Wellesley, Massachusetts-based Vanguard Renewables will build, own, and operate the digester. The company develops, constructs, owns and operates farm-based clean energy systems that use food waste and/or farm waste to produce RNG or renewable electricity (RE).

This is a unique partnership between a Vermont college, local dairy farm, utility, and renewable energy company. 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, said John Hanselman, Executive Chairman and CEO of Vanguard Renewables.

Vanguard currently owns and operates five other digesters that are all located in Massachusetts (MT). The facility at the Goodrich Farm will be the company’s first in Vermont.

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. There isn’t another college in the country that’s in a partnership with a digester. Middlebury is a true leader in this regard, said John Hanselman.

Heat, power, and cooling

Construction on the farm powered anaerobic digester will be completed in 2020 and is expected to produce 180 000 million cubic feet (Mcf) per year. Middlebury College will buy 100 000 Mcf of the gas directly from Vanguard, Vermont Gas will buy 40 000 Mcf, and Vanguard will retain 40,000 Mcf.

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 that Middlebury uses for heating and cooling. The College’s biomass plant will continue to produce the other 50 percent. Both sources provide some of the College’s electricity.

Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) has begun construction on a 5-mile pipeline that will connect the farm with the company’s pipeline network in Addison County.

Our energy landscape is changing, faster than ever. Vermont Gas (VGS) is committed to be a leader in this transformation. 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, contributing to our local economy, said Don Rendall, President, and CEO of VGS.

Manure and food waste

The AD plant is estimated to process 100 tons of manure and 180 tons of organic food waste per day and the company is currently contacting local and Vermont-based food manufacturers to source the food waste.

Chase Goodrich discusses what the digester project means to his family's farm as his sister Danielle Goodrich-Gingras looks on (photo courtesy Middlebury College).

Chase Goodrich discusses what the digester project means to his family’s farm as his sister Danielle Goodrich-Gingras looks on (photo courtesy Middlebury College).

Located on more than 2 400 acres, the Goodrich Family Farm is a generational 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. 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. The digester will help to continue to make this possible, said Chase Goodrich, who is among the fourth generation of his family to operate their farm.

The digester’s benefits to the farm include free heat for 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 (GHG) emissions. An annual lease payment for hosting the digester will diversify the farm’s revenue sources.

The project is an exciting development in Vermont’s dairy industry and the Goodrich family deserve credit for their leadership. We hope a project like this sparks more innovative partnerships that include other Vermont farms, remarked Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts.

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