Schumer, others hail project in Wyoming County
By: Rocco Laurienzo
COVINGTON — A new $7.5 million facility that converts methane gas from manure and organic food waste into electricity could serve as a “showcase project” for American agriculture, officials said Tuesday in Wyoming County.
“We are witnessing an energy revolution that can be replicated across the fields of New York and the country,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who was among the many dignitaries to celebrate the opening of a new co-digester, the largest facility of its kind in the state. “This will be an absolute game-changer.”
The digester sits on land owned by Synergy, a dairy with 2,500 cows on Lemley Road. Manure from the animals fills 60 percent of the 1.9 million gallon tank with food waste making up the other 40 percent. CH4 Biogas, a Florida-based company, owns the digester.
The facility currently produces 1.1 megawatts of power but should soon reach its capacity of 1.4 MW, enough energy for 1,000 homes, CH4 officials said. The electricity all goes back onto the grid.
The technology has advanced in the past decade. Noblehurst in Linwood 10 years ago had the first local digester, a facility that produced 135 kilowatts. The Synergy co-digester can produce more than 10 times that amount.
CH4 sees more potential in Western New York, with many large dairies and food processing companies, as well as incentives from the state to make the projects a reality, said Bob Blythe, CH4 president.
The company is looking at a digester in Batavia that would utilize food waste from the new yogurt plants and O-At-Ka Milk Products Cooperative. The food waste has more energy potential than manure and can produce more methane, resulting in more electricity, Blythe said.
Digesters have proven they work well in WNY, even in harsh winters, said Frank Murray, president and CEO of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The state has approved $10 million annually over the next five years to help bring more digesters on-line. The Covington plant received the maximum $1 million from the state. National Grid also contributed $750,000 to help with some of the interconnection and transmission line costs.
Schumer praised National Grid for working on the connection so CH4 could meet its Dec. 31 deadline to have the facility on-line. That was crucial for the company to receive $2.8 million in tax credits.
The senator said he expects the digesters will become “commonplace” in about 20 years, when they won’t need tax incentives. But right now the government needs to spur some of these projects to reduce some of the risk to the farms and businesses.
“This is the future,” Schumer said. “It opens doors to the future for our country and for the state.”
The facilities create renewable energy, bring investment into rural communities, and reduce the pungent odors from manure, Murray said.
Synergy was drawn to the project partly by the less smelly manure. The company wants to be a good neighbor, said John Noble, president of Synergy, which is owned by about 10 local farms.
The solids that result from the digester process also make for comfortable bedding for cows.
CH4 provided tours of the new power facility on Tuesday. Inside the 1.9-million gallon steel tank, the manure is heated to 140 degrees. Three massive mixer blades stir the manure and food waste. After being heated to 140 degrees in the first tank, the mix is “de-sulfurized” or scrubbed so a cleaner burning methane can be captured in a 800,000-gallon secondary tank. That methane fuels an engine that produces the electricity.
Several high school students from Pavilion attended the grand-opening celebration, which included prominent local, state and federal officials. U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul told the students the project shows they can bring their skills back to the farm and local rural community.
Digester called ‘an absolute game-changer’