Representatives from Middlebury College, Vanguard Renewables, Vermont Gas, Goodrich Farm, and the State of Vermont gathered on August 20 at the farm in Salisbury, Vermont, to mark the groundbreaking for an anaerobic digester. The facility will combine cow manure and food waste to create Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). The facility will be the largest anaerobic digester east of the Mississippi River.
“One of the key components of Middlebury’s Energy 2028 plan is to shift the College completely to the use of renewable energy,” said David Provost, Middlebury’s executive vice president for finance and administration. “The digester is fundamental to this change.”
Construction on the Farm Powered® anaerobic digester will be completed in 2020. RNG produced there will travel by pipeline to Middlebury College’s main power plant. Once the digester is operating, the gas it creates will supply about half of the energy that Middlebury uses for heating and cooling. The college’s biomass plant will continue to produce the other 50 percent. Both sources will provide some of the college’s electricity.
Wellesley, Massachusetts-based Vanguard Renewables will build, own, and operate the digester, which will process 100 tons of manure and 180 tons of organic food waste daily into RNG. Vanguard is currently contacting local and Vermont-based food manufacturers to source the food waste. Vermont Gas has begun construction on Halladay Road on a five-mile pipeline that will connect the farm with the company’s pipeline network in Addison County.
The digester’s benefits to the farm include free heat for farm use, high-quality liquid fertilizer that will reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers, and a reduction in the farm’s phosphorus levels and greenhouse gas emissions. An annual lease payment for hosting the digester will diversify the farm’s revenue sources. Located on more than 2,400 acres, the Goodrich Family Farm is a generational dairy farm with 900 milking cows. It is a member of the Agri-Mark Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
“Our family is excited to see this project transition from a dream into a reality,” said Chase Goodrich, who is among the fourth generation of his family to operate their farm. “The digester has been under discussion for a very long time, and now we could not be more encouraged to move our farm in a new direction.”
“This is a unique partnership between a Vermont college, local dairy farm, utility, and renewable energy company,” said John Hanselman, executive chairman and CEO of Vanguard Renewables.
Vanguard currently owns and operates five other digesters that are all located in Massachusetts. The facility at the Goodrich farm will be the company’s first in Vermont.
The digester is expected to produce 180,000 Mcf per year. (Mcf is 1,000 cubic feet of renewable natural gas.) The college will buy 100,000 Mcf of the gas from Vanguard, Vermont Gas will buy 40,000 Mcf, and Vanguard will retain 40,000 Mcf.
Using 100 percent renewable energy sources is one of the components outlined in Middlebury’s Energy 2028 plan announced in January. The 10-year plan also calls for reducing energy usage by 25 percent, divesting Middlebury’s endowment of investments in fossil fuels, and educating and involving the entire campus community in its implementation.
“We are grateful to everyone involved, especially the Goodrich family, for having the patience to stay with the project and engaging in the hard work that went into making the digester a reality,” said Laurie Patton, Middlebury president
Photo: An overhead view of the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, Vermont, shows the digester construction site on the left on August 20, 2019.