This newsletter has always focused on ways to address the environment at home, and many of us have indeed seen improvements in our carbon footprints from some relatively small changes in lifestyle. This month, however, we’re focusing on one quite small business model that has the potential to grow.
Randy Jordan is a fifth-generation dairy farmer in central Massachusetts. A decade ago, he began looking into turning manure from his 300 cows into natural gas, mainly to lower his growing electric bill. Biodigesters, tanks where microorganisms digest manure and turn it into methane gas that can be burned as fuel or converted to electricity, had been around for decades but had turned out to be complicated to manage, especially at a time when electricity was cheaper. Then Mr. Jordan met Bill Jorgenson, an energy consultant, who had a new recipe for success: add food waste to the manure. It would, he believed, increase the energy output as well as boosting income to farmers through tipping fees from businesses looking to unload food waste. With other farmers, they formed AGreen Energy LLC and began operating on five farms. In 2014, they merged with Vanguard Renewables, a start-up tech firm. Vanguard was able to raise $72 million in venture capital and began partnering with dairy farms all over New England. Food waste comes from firms such as Whole Foods, Gorton’s Seafood, Cape Cod Potato Chips, Cabot Creamery and Waschusett Brewing Co.
That drew the attention of Dominion Energy, which is now investing more than $200 million to join with Vanguard to convert the methane to natural gas. Dominion will own the gas. Vanguard will design, develop and operate the digesters. The farmers get paid for the digesters on their property, and get the by-products of the operation -- heat for their property, livestock bedding and fertilizer. Randy Jordan estimates that the heat and hot water save him about $35,000 annually, the fertilizer $100,000, and the livestock bedding $20,000.
Like oil and gas, this project receives government subsidies. There may be no one perfect answer to the problem of sufficient clean energy for the world, but many solutions based on available resources may show a positive effect on both human lives and the planet.