Recently in Brattleboro, a southern Vermont town often noticed for its independent thinking and activism, Vermont’s U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D) made an important public appearance.
He was in town not to campaign for another Senate term (which he won again this Election Day, by the way), but to usher in a new energy future. With a single keystroke on a laptop computer, Senator Leahy did much more than start a 250-kw generator: He sent the message that Vermont is thinking forward and setting a new standard when it comes to the environment and the economy.
Carbon Harvest Energy, a two-year-old company based in Burlington, created the “Brattleboro Renewable Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Project” to revive an offline landfill—which decades ago generated methane gas for energy—and to eventually turn it into the first link in a chain that uses and reuses power and virtually every waste product generated for good. When complete, it will be the first integrated, renewable energy-to-agriculture, algae feed and biodiesel project in the country: Burning the methane for power will offset roughly the equivalent of 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, and a portion of leftover CO2 will be harvested for algae production.
The project also integrated the thoughts of open-minded leaders from the Windham Solid Waste Management District, Central Vermont Public Service (the area electrical utility), the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School, the Brattleboro Select Board, and even the Vermont Foodbank. Together, they cooperated and brainstormed to find ways to have the closed landfill benefit as many systems, and people, as possible.
At this stage, the landfill’s methane gas will run the generator at the power plant, creating enough electricity to power 300 homes (while sequestering harmful greenhouse gasses). CVPS will buy that power at a slightly higher-than-usual, State-authorized feed-in tariff rate rate.
The “waste” heat produced through that process actually won’t be wasted at all: CHE will construct a combined heat and power (CHP) generation plant that will supply low-cost energy and heat to a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse and aquaculture operation. Year-round, the greenhouse and aquaculture will produce fresh, healthy, locally produced vegetables and fish for sale to customers, with a portion provided to the Vermont Foodbank.
The fish will provide high-nutrient-content, organic waste to help grow the vegetables, and the 30,000 gallons of water they live in will be reused to grow beneficial algae for a research and development effort at UVM. Ultimately, that algae will become animal feed and an ingredient in biofuel.
This innovative project demonstrates the way that creative, open-minded leaders can take a system that seems to bet set in stone—store solid waste, release harmful greenhouse gases—and turn it on its ear, integrating science, technology, nature and community into a sustainable cycle that benefits society on so many levels. Most important, by generating electricity from the waste—and producing food and fuel—while preventing greenhouse gases from contributing to global warming, it shows we can redesign industrial systems to achieve both economic and ecological benefits.
Could Vermont’s energy future be profitable, as well as “No fossil fuels required!”? CHE is demonstrating that it can.
You can see diagrams of how the project works, as well as photographs at various stages of construction, at Carbon Harvest Energy’s web site.
To read local Vermont coverage of the generator start-up event, visit these sites: local Fox 44 News and commonsnews.org.