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Killington Resort Capitalizing On Unique Energy Initiative

By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent

Killington Resort’s new state-of-the-art Peak Lodge will be powered by a state-of-the-art fuel source.

The new Peak Lodge will run on cow manure, or Cow Power, a program formed in 2003. The idea of cows creating enough energy to power your home or farm might seem far-fetched to some but to David Dunn, who works with the Energy Innovation Center for Green Mountain Power, it’s an environmental dream come true.

“We’re working to create more renewable energy while keeping our energy mix reliable and affordable,” said Dunn in a recent interview. “Our team, in addition to working on renewable generation projects is also helping to bring more electric and hybrid electric vehicle infrastructure to Vermont, and to help introduce advanced, cold climate heat pumps to replace fossil fuels to heat our homes at a reduced cost.”

The program was formed at a time when people were developing wind and solar renewable projects, said Dunn.

“We already owned and operated hydro projects around Vermont,” he said. “We were looking for something new and different.”

Dunn, who attended Cornell University in the early 1980s, had learned about the anaerobic digester technology behind Cow Power then.

“We had an example of one in Vermont at Foster Brothers Farm in Middlebury,” Dunn said. “Robert Foster was a pioneer in the industry and a great resource to learn about the challenges and road blocks. “ Partnering with the Agency of Agriculture and a dairy farm partner, Dunn was successful in obtaining federal funding through Senator James Jeffords of Vermont to study the difficulties of building digesters.

“The primary challenge at the time was the very high cost of the equipment and the very low cost for wholesale energy in Vermont,” said Dunn.

So, working with grant programs at the state and federal levels in collaboration with farm lender Yankee Farm Credit and Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA), he created the Cow Power program as a way to pay farms a higher than wholesale rate for the renewable energy they produced.

In essence, the program converts cow poop to cow power.

“One cow produces over 30 gallons of manure a day,” said Dunn. “Multiply that by 1,000, the number of cows on a typical Cow Power farm. That’s a lot of cow poop which, interestingly enough, means that’s also a lot of methane.”

It is the methane that creates electricity, Dunn said. “And, thus, we present to you, GMP Cow Power,” he said.

Although Cow Power might cost customers a few dollars a month, some of the program’s larger customers spend thousands of dollars a year to partner with the innovative company.

They include Groennfell Meadery, Killington Resort, Long Trail Brewing Company, Harrison Concrete, Vermont Hard Cider, Drew’s All Natural, Vermont Clothing Company, Middlebury College, Mary Meyer, Inc., Stark Mountain Woodworking, Green Mountain College, Cobb Hill Community, the Equinox Resort, Handy Toyota, the Vermont Community Foundation, Cooperative Insurance, the Green Mountain National Forest, and the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Park.

“Our farm partners, who have developed Cow Power generation, went beyond business as usual to improve the environment and help produce clean energy,” said Dunn. “They are real pioneers nationally, and have directly helped hundreds of farm owners in other states and Canada learn about the technology and how they can produce energy from cow manure.”

Those farm partners include Blue Spruce Farm, Green Mountain Dairy, Montagne Farms, Berkshire Cow Power LLC, Maxwell’s Neighborhood Energy LLC, Maplehurst Farm, Gervais Family Farm, Chaput Family Farms, Dubois Farm, Monument Farms, Kane’s Cow Power LLC, and Four Hills Farm.

All the farm projects collect manure from the barns typically throughout the day and pump it to a tank (the anaerobic digester), Dunn explained. The waste is then heated to 100 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature of a cow — and the slurry flows through the digester for about three weeks.

“As the organic matter is broken down by a variety of microorganisms,” said Dunn, “it becomes mostly methane gas and carbon dioxide, byproducts of these microbes. The Biogas, as it is called, is pumped to an engine as fuel. The engine drives a generator which produces electricity.”

Future endeavors for the Cow Power initiative include increasing the number of customers. The K-1 Express Gondola at Killington Resort is powered solely by manure from local dairy farms.

“Businesses like Killington and thousands of homeowners contribute extra each month which is what helps our farm partners afford the ongoing operation and maintenance of their systems,” said Dunn. “We hope more people will sign up because of the direct connection to the dairy farmers located right here in Vermont, and all the environmental and other benefits that are created.”

The K-1 gondola at Killington Resort has been fueled by Cow Power since 2012. The Peak Lodge will also be powered by the program.

Chandler Burgess/Killington Resort Photos

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Copyright © 2014 The Vermont Standard 02/20/2014

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