Residents of Vermont are being treated to a new form of local renewable energy – Cow Power.
Cow Poop to Cow Power – a new way to power Vermont, that’s utility Green Mountain Power’s motto.
All residents can now buy energy produced from the manure of Vermont’s 10,000 dairy cows straight from the utility. The state just ruled the program could be expanded state-wide, so they’ll be a lot more cows signing on to participate.
12 farms are currently in the program. Not only does Cow Power feed electricity to the grid, it also provides hot water and space heating for the farms that produce it using on-site anaerobic digesters. Coarse plant fibers left over can be used as bedding and what’s left over after that can be processed and sold as garden soil. The liquid portion is an enhanced fertilizer used to grow crops to feed the cows.
Matt Maxwell, who has been producing Cow Power since 2008, says: "We joined the program because milk prices were so low, and we were looking for a separate, steady income stream. It’s been great for us. There’s the income from the sale of electricity. We’re using the dry by-product as bedding for our 750 dairy cows, and we have excess to sell to other farmers and landscapers.
With excess heat from the engine we’ve been able to heat a 2,600 square foot greenhouse where we raise broccoli and greens for the wholesale market all winter, and tomatoes and peppers in the summer. We also heat our machine shop with the excess heat, which means we buy way less heating oil. When people pay a little extra to buy GMP Cow Power, they are helping the environment, and they are helping Vermont farmers stay in business."
Residents can elect to buy 25%, 50%, or 100% of their energy from Cow Power, and pay a premium of four cents per kilowatt hour. That adds up to an extra $6 a month for an average homeowner if they get 25% of their energy from Cow Power. The premium goes directly to farmers.
190 businesses currently buy Cow Power, including
Killington Resort, Long Trail Brewing Company, Harrison Concrete, Vermont Hard Cider, Drew’s All Natural, Vermont Clothing Company, Middlebury College, Green Mountain College and Handy Toyota.
Vermont Technical College is building an anaerobic digester that will generate heat for the campus, and power for sales to the grid. The feedstock is food waste from nearby farms.
The US dairy industry plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020, largely by using anaerobic digesters to make biogas.