SYRACUSE, NY — “In a way, we are calling out agencies because we are ready to go,” declared Curt Gooch, representing Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY at the Renewable Bio-Gas Symposium recently.
He said many farmers want to install anaerobic digesters, but cost represents a major roadblock.
Gooch spoke on “Public Policy Road Map for BIo-Gas and Digesters” for a session at the symposium.
According to Gooch, anaerobic digesters cost farms about $1,200 to $2,000 per cow involved. That range usually increases for smaller operations. Larger operations, such as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) with more than 300 animals in a small area, can better absorb the cost because of their larger operating budgets and the lower cost per animal. But only about 500 CAFOs operate in New York.
The current wholesale price for electrical energy generated by an anaerobic digester is about $.035 per kilowatt hour, making anaerobic digesters unprofitable if generating electricity represents their only means of making money.
Farms also face difficulty in connecting to the grid through the utility company. Better digester policies and standardization of digester systems may help mitigate this issue.
Gooch said although it helps to receive tipping fees for managing food waste that would have otherwise gone to a landfill, most farms can’t rely on tipping fees for stable income since they cannot obtain contracts from producers of food waste.
Lenders don’t want to finance purchase of a digester because of the fairly rapid depreciation of the equipment and relatively low chances of their generating income. If it’s not making the farm money or saving it money, and it’s not something that can be sold should the farm default, it’s a risky proposition to lend money for a digester.
Gooch cited Denmark as an example of how policy can change agriculture. Legislation requires a nine-month manure storage period. Forty percent of a storage facility’s capital cost is covered by the government if the farmer supplies manure to the biogas plant. Denmark restricts the amount of manure land applied. Farms cooperating with biogas plants only get back the amount of manure they can legally apply.
Despite these drawbacks, Gooch said, “anaerobic digesters deserve another look.”
Gooch said anaerobic digesters can enable farmers to help New York reach its environmental and economic goals, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, production of renewable energy, increase of clean energy sources, improved management of organic wastes, diversion of organic waste from landfills, and improved economy in upstate.
Gooch said comparing other renewable energy sources to anaerobic digesters is like comparing apples to oranges.
Other renewable energy sources can replace fossil fuel, reduce greenhouse gasses, have low capacity factor, don’t have baseline power and require energy sources.
Digesters can also replace fossil fuel, but reduce greenhouse gasses three times better. Digesters have a higher capacity factor, provide baseline power, don’t require storage, divert waste from landfills, and contribute to dairy stability as an income source.
He stated that if 229 anaerobic digesters were running in New York by 2030 with 364,000 cows providing waste to the digesters, 89 percent of the manure based greenhouse gas emissions would be eliminated.
“Co-digestion can increase that number more,” Gooch said.
The Symposium was hosted by the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environment and Energy Systems, Cornell University PRO-DAIRY, Stony Brook University, Syracuse University, National Grid and Sustainable Dairy Technologies.