It's Hard to be Green

NORTH TROY – A local farmer is able to use cow manure and other waste products to generate electricity and keep the family farm viable, but the process was not easy. Multiple regulations and various agencies were involved, and one decided to levy a fine because it was not notified of a change. State and federal financial help, now waning, were also essential in creating the project.The Chaput Family Farm’s methane digester came on line in August of 2010 and it has created problems ever since. The Chaputs had to deal with about 15 different agencies throughout the project. They were recently fined $2,500 by the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) for failure to notify the board of a change in a building associated with the project. "(T)he regulatory gauntlet associated with building a methane digester was extremely frustrating,” farmer Reg Chaput said. “The number of state and federal agencies that had to be consulted was unbelievable with an incredible amount of redundancy between agencies. The process of building a methane digester is far too cumbersome and there needs to be a way to streamline this procedure.”When the digester went online in 2010, cow manure was used alone with the notion of trying substrates at some point. Chaput said he wanted to compare the energy output from manure alone and then with added agricultural substrates.Using just manure created energy output at 150 kilowatt hours (Kwh) per hour. That number jumped to 185 kWh when 10 percent of the substrates were added. At Chaput Farms, the substrates are fish waste – mostly waste water from a fish plant in Massachusetts. The Public Service Board (PSB) approved up to 10 truckloads per month of substrates.Using the substrates keeps the waste out of the environment, has no smell, and increased electrical output, which made the project even more financially viable.The process of using the methane digester benefits the environment. Methane, considered a potent greenhouse gas, is released from open manure pits and contributes to environmental problems. But digesters capture those gasses and in turn produce energy. The process also creates sterilized bedding for the cows, resulting in a dairy farm producing cleaner milk. Chaput Family Farms continuously wins awards for their farm, and they are the reigning Vermont Diary Farm of the Year.About 72 percent of the $2.1-million project was funded through federal and state grants. The Chaputs are not receiving Federal Production Tax Credits but opted instead to take a grant. The project is part of the Vermont SPEED program (Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development).In the fall of 2011, the Chaputs decided to build a holding tank for the substrates for efficiency reasons and applied with the PSB. Prior to this time, a small building was constructed to cover some equipment and another building was made smaller to save cost. These changes were approved by the Vermont State Engineers, Chaput said. But it did not occur to Chaput that the PSB would have to approve the change as well because it had nothing to do with way the digester operated. Chaput decided to inform the PSB about the changes when applying for the new tank. This led to the $2,500 fine. “Despite the fact that it was never our intension to disregard the PSB and despite the fact that we were proactive and brought these changes to their attention at a later date, we were still fined for this oversight.” Despite the fine, and the $10,000 attorney’s fees, the farm is now moving forward, diversified and strong.