Co. Exec. Falk, farmers help start Dane County “Cow Power” facility

Thursday, December 16, 2010

With the push of a button by Dane County Exec. Falk, the innovative facility north of Waunakee began the process of converting manure into electricity, instead of pollution.

From a news release issued by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk:

Dane County’s first “Cow Power” facility officially started operating today, as County Executive Kathleen Falk, representatives of Clear Horizons (the private operator), and the three farm families partnering on the project pushed a button to start filling the first manure digester tank.

Once this one-million gallon tank is full (in approximately two weeks), the manure will be heated and the process of converting it into electricity for homes and compost for gardens will begin. The facility is expected to begin producing electricity for sale to Alliant Energy in February.

The Dane County “Cow Power” facility will generate about $2-million worth of electricity each year - - enough to run 2,500 Dane County homes. It also includes first-of-its-kind equipment slated to remove much of the algae-producing phosphorous from the manure.

“Today begins the next exciting step in this innovative project - - turning a whole lot of cow manure into a valuable commodity for our homes and businesses and keeping it out of our lakes,” Falk said. “Thanks to the unique design of this one-of-a-kind digester, manure from 2,500 cows will go into powering our homes instead of polluting our waters.”

Dane County and a Wisconsin company, Clear Horizons are partnering on this project with three family farms in the Towns of Vienna and Dane - - the Ripps’, the Endres’ and the Maiers’. This digester is the first in the state to be shared by a cluster of several farmers and one of only a handful in the country to substantially remove pollutants that cause algae and weed growth in local lakes. That primary pollutant is phosphorus which studies have shown is the leading cause of green algae and other weed growth in Dane County’s lakes.

Today’s start of operations culminates years of pioneering work by County Executive Falk, the farm families and Clear Horizons to build this unique digester.

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin's executive director, attended the ceremony.

Governor Doyle included $6.6 million in the 2009-11 state budget so two new Dane County “Cow Power” facilities would have additional phosphorus removal technology not used in other digesters in the state. To date, private dollars from Clear Horizons has funded the $12 million total project cost. Once the project is fully operational, half of the state funding ($3.3 million) will be used to pay for the phosphorus removal equipment while the other half will go for a second digester. No county dollars were used.