BRATTLEBORO — The company behind a solar project proposed on the Windham Solid Waste Management District's closed and capped landfill is looking at the feasibility of a "bioenergy park."
"The goal is to have an integrated composting facility and anaerobic digestion facility," WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer said Sunday, referring to composting technology to deal with food waste. "I'm impressed with Sky Solar. They have done a great job."
With the hope of securing a grant to be matched by Sky, the district's Board of Supervisors approved Thursday the signing of a letter of support to be submitted to the Windham Regional Commission Renewable Energy Program. Also backing the study were the Brattleboro Retreat, Commonwealth Dairy, Putney Food Co-op and Hermit Thrush Brewery. Under Vermont's Universal Recycling Law, known as Act 148, those groups are required to bring their food scraps to certified facilities.
Frank Ruffolo, director of engineering at Sky, called the project — entailing solar, recycling and waste technologies — the Brattleboro Bioenergy Park. He told the Board of Supervisors a "system-impact study" provided an initial estimate that had been lower than expected but more information will be needed.
An anaerobic digestion system could be housed with the landfill gas generation facility that's already at the district's Old Ferry Road property in Brattleboro. The composting technology would "basically take out food waste byproduct" and turn it into methane gas, said Ruffolo.
"That can go through the same equipment and generate electricity, basically utilizing the extra capacity we have and that equipment, the extra space we have in the plant, and give us another way to basically divert waste from the landfill," he said, later adding that a grant would provide an opportunity to study the technology and cost. "The plan would be to come back to the board once we have some of these questions answered and then move into a design and implementation phase. I'm looking at this as being a year-and-a-half project."
His company, which is also taking over the landfill gas generation facility from Dynamic Organics on the district's property, has been renamed Sky Renewable Energy. Dynamic Organics will still be involved in the operation.
Spencer said the relationship between the two companies and the district could be a "good private/public partnership." But he admitted there is a lot of work to be done in studying the project.
"It may not be economically feasible because these technologies are very expensive," Spencer told the Reformer. "In fact, in all of the consulting work I've done on anaerobic digestion, none have proven to be economically viable."
He pointed to an incentive that might make the project more profitable than those studied in New York and Massachusetts. The landfill-gas generation facility receives 12 cents a kilowatt hour for the electricity produced. For energy produced through a food-waste digestion facility, the pay out would be 20.8 cents per kilowatt hour — the highest of any renewable energy in Vermont.
"So there is basically a public subsidy through Green Mountain Power required by the Public Service Board and they're doing that to encourage such technologies," Spencer said. "There's wind power, solar power, landfill gas, hydroelectric. Nothing is as high as the food waste. That's why I think this may have more potential than other projects I have worked on."
With that incentive plus the potential for selling fertilizer products with the leftover compost, Spencer said the cost to buy the new equipment might be offset. Proposals from technology vendors all over the world will be sought.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.