Selling Cow Power in Idaho

February 23, 2010 09:55 AM

Cargill and Bettencourt Dairy, Murtaugh, Idaho

In 2007, Cargill's Environmental Finance Group began building a plug-flow digester on Bettencourt Farms' new Dry Creek Dairy, a 10,000-cow operation near Murtaugh, Idaho.

Since going online in September 2008, the 5-million-gallon digester has generated electricity for the Idaho grid, reduced manure odor, cut manure handling costs and produced digester solids for the dairy's bedding.

"It's a very stable operation,” says Craig Maetzold, director of project development with the Cargill group.

Today, the Dry Creek project sells 1.1 million kwh of electricity to Idaho Power Company each month. Under a power purchase agreement, the project is paid 6.5¢ to 8.5¢ per kwh.

The project has worked so well that owner-operator Cargill has built a second digester on another (6,000-cow) Bettencourt Dairy nearby. That one began delivering electricity to the grid in November 2009. It's still in the commissioning stage, delivering only a "light load,” Maetzold says.

In June 2009, Cargill completed its first verification step for carbon credits. "We're generating carbon credits but not trading them yet,” Maetzold says.

Cargill is installing a third U.S. digester on a 5,500-cow dairy near Idaho Falls. Internationally, Cargill Environmental Finance has involvement with five other digesters. Only one is on a dairy.

"We plan to build others, depending on the business climate,” Maetzold says. "Even with overall economic conditions, these digesters offer a valuable waste management solution that is good for farmers and the environment.”

Maetzold puts the cost of building a digester at $8 million to $11.5 million.

"The Dry Creek digester project has been a progressive step forward for us in managing our dairies,” says Bettencourt Dairy's Rick Onaindia. "We appreciate our relationship with Cargill and their investment in making our dairies better.”

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