The Central Vermont Cow Power (CVCP) program has been called the nation’s first manure-based, farm-to-consumer energy program. The state’s fifth dairy farm has just joined the CVPS Cow Power herd through cooperation with Vermont Electric Cooperative. A number of Vermont groups and businesses have enrolled in the energy program since it began in 2004.

CVCP customers, such as the U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Rutland, VT, sign up to receive all, half or a quarter of their electrical energy through Cow Power and agree to pay a premium of $.04/kilowatt hour. The fee goes to participating farm producers, helps purchase renewable energy credits when enough farm energy isn’t available, or is put in the Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) Renewable Development Fund. That fund also provides grants to farm owners to develop on-farm energy generation. Farm producers are also paid 95% of the market price for all of the energy sold to CVPS.

Neighborhood Farms in Newport, VT, is the most recent farm to join the Cow Power program. The farm was started in 1957 by Maurice and Lois Maxwell, who now share ownership with their four sons: Stewart, Bradley, Anthony and Jeffery. Grandson Matthew also works on the farm in a management position. There are 850 milking cows with an average of 750 milking at all times.

“We’re excited to be online and generating a new income stream,” explains Matthew Maxwell. “If not for CVPS Cow Power, we wouldn’t be doing this. The program provides solid financial benefits while helping us make tremendous improvements to our manure management. CVPS Cow Power and the customers who enroll help make projects such as ours a reality.” Matthew, Bradley, Stewart, Jeffery and Anthony recently created a partnership called Neighborhood Energy LLC. The farm partnership will produce energy with an anaerobic digester and generator installed at the farm site. Construction of the digester began in March.

The Cow Power process is simple. Manure and other agricultural waste are held in a sealed concrete tank at 101 degrees F (which, incidentally, is the same temperature as a cow’s stomach). Bacteria digest the volatile components, creating methane and killing pathogens and weed seeds. The methane fuels an engine/generator.

Neighborhood Farms is in the Vermont Electric Cooperative’s (VEC) service territory. VEC worked with the Maxwells and CVPS to make the project a reality. VEC will purchase the farm’s electrical output and CVPS Cow Power agreed to purchase the credits and all associated renewable attributes for $.04 per kilowatt hour.

The Neighborhood Farms project is expected to produce about 1,750,000 kilowatt-hours annually. The other four farms are located in Addison, Berkshire, Sheldon and St. Albans, VT. All of the farms have well over 500 cows, and produce or are expected to produce between 1.2 and 3.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. CVPS is hoping to be able to supply 4 to 5% of the state’s energy needs with Cow Power within 10 years.

Visit the Cow Power web site and learn more about the Cow Power energy process.