Scott Walker’s administration earmarks $15 million to turn manure into energy in Brown County

Lee Bergquist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Gov. Scott Walker's administration approved plans on Friday for a major new public-private initiative in northeastern Wisconsin to convert manure into energy to help address growing concerns of pollution from animal waste.

The state Public Service Commission approved spending $15 million to subsidize a project by a private consortium, BC Organics, to harness the energy-producing properties from cattle manure and other waste into marketable natural gas.

The consortium, which includes Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, the parent of utility companies We Energies of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Public Service of Green Bay, is expected to spend a total of $60.3 million.

Public funding comes from the Focus on Energy program, which underwrites energy-efficiency projects from a surcharge on electric customers.

The project, "Green Pastures Bio Energy Center," will be south of Green Bay near Holland at a Brown County-owned landfill. Natural gas from the plant will connect to an interstate gas pipeline when it goes into operation at the end of 2018. 

Plans call for manure, food waste and landfill gas to supply a system of anaerobic digesters that convert methane gas into a form of renewable natural gas. Older systems in Wisconsin produce electricity and have been hit by low prices utilities pay them.

Some manure will be piped to the complex and other waste will arrive by tanker truck.

Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, which promotes renewable energy, said he was pleased with the agency's move and said that home-grown natural gas "keeps dollars in our state."

He added that "no one project is going to solve the very challenging agricultural and water-quality issues for northeast Wisconsin."

The Green Pastures project features technology that strips out phosphorus and cleans water much like a municipal wastewater treatment system.

At Friday's meeting, PSC Chairwoman Ellen Nowak touted the pollution-fighting attributes of the system that, when in full operation, will remove nearly 578,000 pounds of phosphorus and clean 163 million gallons of water annually.

Phosphorus from manure is an organic fertilizer, but in heavy doses it is a source of pollution. In Brown County, runoff from urban and rural areas feeds algae blooms in Lake Michigan and Green Bay.

The ability of farms to safely spread waste, especially from a growing livestock base in northeastern Wisconsin, is becoming "increasingly untenable," Nowak said.

The commission's 3-0 vote for the project represents the biggest single effort by the Walker administration to address manure pollution issues. All three members were appointed by Walker.

A separate initiative — state Department of Natural Resources rules limiting spreading on land where soil and geology are more vulnerable to pollution — must go to the Legislature.

Manure pollution has become an increasingly contentious issue in Wisconsin, especially the waste of cattle from large-scale farms.

Many are located in the northeast where the region's fractured bedrock can create conditions where waste percolates through soil and pollutes groundwater.

Kewaunee County, adjacent to Brown County, is especially vulnerable. But a competing project planned for that county was rejected by commissioners as too expensive.

Lee Luft, a Kewaunee County supervisor, said: "I think it's important to (use) some of these new methodologies."

But Luft cautioned that the industry has a checkered history, plagued by operational and economic problems. There are more than 30 biodigesters in operation in the state today, though most of them lack the ability to remove phosphorus and clean water.

He criticized the PSC for not conducting an environmental analysis first on the potential impact of a large complex devoted to manure processing.

The consortium behind the project has 24 members, including Waukesha-based Dynamic Group, which has developed other projects; U.S. Biogas of Plymouth; and BioStar Organics of Overland Park, Kan.

Reproduced from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Read the full article here:

http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2017/09/15/wisconsin-psc-earmarks-15-million-harness-manure-into-energy-brown-county/661343001/