$65m digester: Salvation or scam?

October 5, 2017

By Ed Byrne The Brillion News

ASKEATON – Duane Toenges played to a packed house on Monday evening at the Town of Holland board meeting.

Toenges is the front man for BC Organics, the corporation that put together a business consortium which won a competition to develop an industrial manure and organic waste digester – with the only site identified so far being in the Town of Holland in southern Brown County.

News that BC Organics has submitted the winning proposal to the state for the plant was announced in a press release issued on September 15 by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

It said BC Organics could get a $15 million Focus on Energy grant for developing a bioenergy plant in Brown County.

On Monday, Toenges said it would be a $65 million plant with the capacity to take in 600,000 gallons of manure per day produced by 22,000 dairy cows.

Toenges talked a folksy line, and the reaction of town officials – the town board and the town’s Landfill Monitoring Committee – ranged from polite suspicion to outright hostility.

Toenges said he and three other partners have 75 years of engineering consulting among them.

Toenges said the state asked for proposals to explore “putting multiple dairies together to utilize manure for renewable energy and do a better job with manure management.”

The actual proposal addressed Monday evening calls for construction of the plant – with 14 enclosed digester tanks – at the corner of Old 57 Road and Lamers-Clancy Road, across the road from Country Aire Farms, a large dairy farm with a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO).

“At the end of the day, this is all about nutrient management. Everything in this project is ‘How do we do a better job of managing nutrients,” Toenges said.

By “nutrients” he means dairy manure.

Dave Wiese, one of the partners in another large farm, said that the manure management problem has to be solved to keep the dairy industry viable here.

Dairy farms have traditionally handled the manure generated by their cows by spreading it on cropland as fertilizer, but Toenges said that to handle all of the manure generated by dairy cows in Brown County, farmers need 60,000 more acres of cropland for spreading manure.

The plant his group proposes would take a lot of liquid manure, remove and clean the water, generate methane gas that would be injected in a natural gas pipeline, and take the manure solids to make fertilizer for sale.

Older digester systems were justified by using the methane gas to run turbines and generate power for sale to electric utilities – but it currently costs more to make the electricity than it can be sold for on the grid.

Toenges said his group is taking a risk and would get the $15 million seed grant only if the plant is built and operates.

Please see the complete story in the October 5, 2017 edition of The Brillion News. 

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