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County Executive's Office

County Executive Falk, Farmers Help Start Operation of Dane County “Cow Power” Facility

December 16, 2010
Joshua Wescott, Office of the County Executive (608) 267-8823 or cell (608) 669-5606
County Executive

With Push of a Button, Innovative Facility North of Waunakee Begins Process of Converting Manure into Power - - Instead of Pollution


Dane County’s first “Cow Power” facility officially started operating today, as County Executive Kathleen Falk, representatives of Clear Horizons (the private operator), and the three farm families partnering on the project pushed a button to start filling the first manure digester tank.


Once this one-million gallon tank is full (in approximately two weeks), the manure will be heated and the process of converting it into electricity for homes and compost for gardens will begin.  The facility is expected to begin producing electricity for sale to Alliant Energy in February. 


The Dane County “Cow Power” facility will generate about $2-million worth of electricity each year - - enough to run 2,500 Dane County homes.  It also includes first-of-its-kind equipment slated to remove much of the algae-producing phosphorous from the manure.


“Today begins the next exciting step in this innovative project - - turning a whole lot of cow manure into a valuable commodity for our homes and businesses and keeping it out of our lakes,” Falk said.  “Thanks to the unique design of this one-of-a-kind digester, manure from 2,500 cows will go into powering our homes instead of polluting our waters.”


Dane County and a Wisconsin company, Clear Horizons are partnering on this project with three family farms in the Towns of Vienna and Dane - - the Ripps’, the Endres’ and the Maiers’.  This digester is the first in the state to be shared by a cluster of several farmers and one of only a handful in the country to substantially remove pollutants that cause algae and weed growth in local lakes.  That primary pollutant is phosphorus which studies have shown is the leading cause of green algae and other weed growth in Dane County’s lakes. 


Today’s start of operations culminates years of pioneering work by County Executive Falk, the farm families and Clear Horizons to build this unique digester.


Governor Doyle included $6.6 million in the 2009-11 state budget so two new Dane County “Cow Power” facilities would have additional phosphorus removal technology not used in other digesters in the state.  To date, private dollars from Clear Horizons has funded the $12 million total project cost. Once the project is fully operational, half of the state funding ($3.3 million) will be used to pay for the phosphorus removal equipment while the other half will go for a second digester. No county dollars were used.


“All our manure will now go to the digester and most of the phosphorus will be exported out of the watershed to help clean up our lakes and streams,” said Richard Maier, of White Gold Dairy, a multi-generational, family-owned and operated dairy.


In addition to this first digester, Dane County recently announced that four farm families in the Town of Springfield have expressed interest in partnering with the county on construction of a second “Cow Power” facility.  Under the proposal, electricity from that digester would be sold to Madison Gas and Electric.  It’s hoped that construction of that digester will begin northwest of Middleton late next summer. 


Developing these new “Cow Power” facilities was one of the major reasons why County Executive Falk ran for re-election in the April, 2009.  These digesters are unique for two reasons: they are the first cluster of farms in Wisconsin and one of a handful in the nation to develop a community digester; and two,  the project is one of a rare number of digesters in the nation slated to remove much of the algae-producing phosphorous from the manure to keep lakes clean.  This model can be replicated throughout the nation. 


Falk’s work on developing these innovative digesters dates back to 2005.  In the wake of fish kills from liquid manure that winter, Falk created a manure management task force that included farmers, utilities, county board supervisors, and environmentalists.  That group’s top recommendation was development of these manure digesters in areas north of the Lake Mendota watershed that are prone to phosphorus run-off in local lakes and streams.  Falk allocated seed money for the initial feasibility study and further funding of a Community Manure Management Facilities Plan for the initial design of the Waunakee project. 




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