Middlebury College seeks to become more energy efficient by harvesting natural gas from waste

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Middlebury College seeks to become more energy efficient and cut its carbon footprint by collaborating with three organizations to produce renewable natural gas.

Vermont Gas, Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, Vt., and Vanguard Renewables in Wellesley, Mass., have recently signed an agreement to get the clean energy plan into action.

Vanguard Renewables will construct and operate an anaerobic digester at Goodrich Farm that takes food and cow waste to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) and high-quality liquid fertilizer that will take the place of harmful chemical fertilizers.

“Vermont state law currently prohibits the disposal of organic waste, like food waste, into landfills,” Jack Byrne, director of sustainability integration at Middlebury, said. “As a result, most food waste is now being diverted to other places like digesters and composting operations.”

Wikimedia Commons/Rainer Ebert

Farmer moving manure

The anaerobic digester at Goodrich Farm will process 100 tons of manure and 165 tons of organic food waste per day by sourcing from local and Vermont-based food manufacturers across the state.

Byrne said digesters remove phosphorus from manure and make it easier to control phosphorus and other harmful chemicals from being released into waterways, contaminating water quality. “It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by capturing the methane from manure decomposition and burning it,” he said.

The digester will become the most energy-efficient digester in the state and produce the largest amount of clean energy. The energy will then be transported by a five-mile-long pipeline to the college’s main power plant.

Once the digester is fully functional, it will allow Middlebury College to be fully powered and heated by clean renewable energy. Goodrich farm will also benefit while reducing their energy use and emitting fewer greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Byrne said a healthier dairy industry will not only benefit the environment but Vermont’s economy too. His hope is that other farmers across Vermont become inspired to get a digester of their own.

The college will be purchasing the majority of this clean energy source, and will only use oil as a back-up energy source in situations like extreme cold weather. Vermont Gas and Vanguard will purchase the remainder.

Beth Parent, chief company spokesperson at Vermont Gas, said it’s important for people in the community and across the state to have the option of using clean renewable energy to power their homes while also reducing their carbon footprint.

“This is a really big step forward in providing important local renewable energy source to customers in Addison County, and we’re really thrilled to be a part of it,” Parent said.

The project is currently in its permitting phase and will go under construction once the permits have been accepted.

Briana Bocelli is a freelance writer for True North Reports. She lives in the Northeast Kingdom and is a senior at Castleton University.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/PenelopeIsMe and Wikimedia Commons/Rainer Ebert