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Connecticut's largest dairy farm taps into energy markets with a plentiful supply of cow manure

Stephen Singer, Hartford Courant on

Published in Science & Technology News

It’s a common farm odor, but for Connecticut’s largest dairy operator, cow manure is the smell of money.

In the complicated business of energy markets, manure produced from a herd of 3,000 cows at Oakridge Dairy in Ellington, Connecticut will be transformed into gas sold in New Jersey.

Oakridge and its partner, South Jersey Industries, broke ground recently on an anaerobic digester that will capture raw methane and other greenhouse gases produced by manure. In the process, bacteria break down organic matter such as animal manure, wastewater and food wastes in the absence of oxygen.

The $12 million project, which is set to begin operating next September, will turn biogas into commercial-grade renewable natural gas added to the distribution system of Elizabethtown Gas, a subsidiary of the Folsom, N.J., company, and its 300,000 customers.

Founded in 1890 and in its fifth generation, Oakridge will welcome the new source of revenue to defray high taxes and rising costs for energy and labor, Chief Executive Officer Seth Bahler said. Local milk markets were once dominant, but Oakridge now competes in global markets, he said.

“We have to produce it more cheaply, and Connecticut is not cheap,” he said.

 

Oakridge will not be lacking the raw material fed into the digester. A cow eats 100 pounds of food a day and produces 15 gallons of manure, Bahler said. Oakridge Dairy will still have plenty left to fertilize its 3,000 acres, he said.

For South Jersey Industries Inc., the Oakridge project will be the first in a portfolio of dairy farms to break ground in its partnership with REV LNG, a renewable energy project development and mobile energy services company.

SJI has other investment opportunities in Michigan and elsewhere, said Dominick DiRocco, vice president of external affairs. The gas produced at Oakridge will be liquefied and transported by truck to customers in New Jersey.

“There aren’t many dairy farms in New Jersey,” DiRocco said. “There aren’t enough dairy cows to produce gas.”

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