Rainier Biogas embarks on Washington dairy AD project

By Anna Austin | March 24, 2011

Washington-based Rainier Biogas LLC is implementing a collaborative, multi-dairy digester project in Enumclaw, Wash., that will produce 1 megawatt of electricity, cow bedding for the participating farms and fertilizer to spread over fields.

Kevin Maas of Rainier Biogas said the company has completed two similar projects north of Seattle, and prefers to focus on community-based projects.

So far, three farms are signed up to provide manure to the digester, which will be located on one of the farms. “We expect to run with four [farms],” Maas said. “These dairies are medium-sized, each milking a few hundred cows. This size of a project is the most economical.”

Though all of the farms involved are within about a one-mile radius of the digester, manure will have to be trucked to it from at least two of them. “We’d like to link to another farm by pipe—that would be easy—but there are lots of things in the way, as this area is exurban Seattle,” Mass said. “We’d have to cross a state highway, and there are a few other pieces of property that the farmers don’t control. It’s not ideal, but it’s definitely better than not doing it at all.”

Besides manure, the digester will also take in food processing waste. “This is something that Washington has some clear rules on,” Mass said. “A manure digester can take up to 30 percent food waste as long as it’s preconsumer food waste.”  

At the end of the process, Rainier will create cow bedding for the farmers, and the liquid will be spread on fields as fertilizer. “The farmers are contracted to bring their manure to the digester, and in turn we provide them with that bedding,” Maas said. “We want the farmer to be better off working for us, and not solely for intangible things like odor control. They need an incentive to sign up, because it can’t just be to feel good.”

Few farmers in the Pacific Northwest are taking the plunge and installing digesters, according to Maas. “The incentives here aren’t as good as those in other places like Wisconsin and the Northeast,” he said. “We started our company because we realized that in order to get digesters onto farms, farmers can’t be asked to pay for them. With our projects, the farmers aren’t putting in a dime; we’ve brought all the money to them, which we will own and operate.”

Currently, Rainier has its project financing in order and is working through the permitting process, aiming to begin construction on the project this summer. “It’s a new county for us permitting-wise, so we don’t know exactly how long it’ll take,” Maas said. “But we’ve done this before and we understand how the process works; we’re using the same designer and builder as we did for our previous projects, and we’re selling the power to the same utility.”

Rainier has a new project partner on board this time around—NativeEnergy Inc., which helped provide financing for the project and will work to sell carbon reductions resulting from the digester.

Maas noted that the county has been trying to get a digester going for a decade, but it’s been difficult to develop this type of project where many stakeholders and a large amount of money is involved. “The farmers participating have been hoping for this for almost 10 years, and we’re almost there,” he added.