Energy-from-manure plan in works

Friday, August 6, 2004

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Vermont's largest power company has won state approval for a plan to have dairy farmers generate energy from decomposing cow manure to sell back to the utility.

Central Vermont Public Service Corp. now hopes to sign up farmers willing to set up a generator on their property and go into the power business on a small scale.

The farmers will be paid market price plus another 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. CVPS won't make any extra money from the project, said spokesman Steve Costello.

"Our customers have asked for renewable power, and this is one more way we can offer it," Costello said. He added the plan was also aimed at helping farmers, many of whom are also CVPS power customers.

"To help farms become more financially strong, that's beneficial not only to us but to the state," he said.

Methane gas, created by the decomposition of matter such as trash or cow manure, can be burned to create energy.

Costello said only one Vermont farm, in Middlebury, generates electricity from methane. That farm uses the energy itself.

Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpelier is building an electric generation plant that will use methane from the state's largest landfill in Coventry. Co-op General Manager Avram Patt said that project will generate a third of the power used by the co-op, which has 9,400 members.

CVPS, with 148,000 customers across the state, has different expectations for its methane project. Costello described the project as one small aspect of a portfolio that now gets about 30 percent of its power from the Hydro-Quebec power company, 40 to 50 percent from Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, and the rest from various other sources, including the McNeil wood chip plant in Burlington.

"This isn't going to replace Hydro-Quebec," said Costello. "But it certainly can have a very significant environmental impact.

"And it is really important to give customers who want it that choice of a fully renewable model," he said.

To join up, farmers will have to make a large investment -- as much as $1 million, though there are some tax incentives. The one farm that has signed on so far, in Bridport, has 1,400 cattle and is expected to produce about 1.75 million kilowatt-hours of power in the first year.

Starting in September, CVPS customers will have the option of paying 4 cents extra per kilowatt-hour for the cow-manure power. For a typical power user, choosing 100 percent cow-manure power would cost about $20 extra per month, Costello said. Customers can opt to receive a smaller share of their power from the farm source, and pay less.

"Customers who choose it will be paying the farmer for having created this renewable power," he said.

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A new kind of cranberry developed by Wisconsin scientists to mature earlier and produce a darker red berry is expected to be available to commercial growers by the end of the summer.

A license that growers can purchase to plant HyRed was finalized this week, with a price tag of $1,200 up front and $60 per acre planted.

"The plan is to introduce it widely as fast as we can get the supply out there," said Bryan Renk of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the private group that manages intellectual property at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Because cranberry plants can take up to five years to mature, it is expected to be a few years before juice and other products made from HyRed make it to grocers' shelves.

"Cranberry juice is supposed to be natural, so the last thing you want to do is look at the ingredients and see Red Dye No. 2," said Eric Zeldin, who engineered the new berry with horticulture professor Brent McCown.

The men developed HyRed by blending two widely used strains in Wisconsin, selecting the best characteristics of both. The new berry gets its deep red color from the Ben Lear variety, and its expected good yield from the Stevens.

Zeldin said research and development on cranberry hybrids has lagged far behind the genetic manipulation of crops such as corn because cranberries are a much smaller specialty market and require some unique growing conditions that complicate research.

"We want to see this succeed," said Rod Serres, senior research specialist with Ocean Spray Inc., which helped fund the scientists' research and also is testing the new variety in four locations outside Wisconsin. "We want reliable color in all our (growing) regions."

Zeldin said berry research continues at the school, focused now on improving yield.

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