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New generator will increase cow poop power in County

MONROE — Some 2,000 cows from a family dairy are powering hundreds of local homes and they’ll soon be lighting up even more.
Qualco Energy, a partnership between the Werkhoven Dairy farm and the Tulalip Tribe, began harnessing power from cow-pies more than a decade ago. The unlikely pairing needed a solution to mitigate manure from bleeding waste into area waterways.
Using an anaerobic digester, the cutting-edge endeavor processes tens of thousands of pounds of cow poop and food waste each day to create methane that can be burned for renewable energy and a liquid fertilizer that is less harmful to the environment.   
“Usually, everyone would be across the table from each other when talking about water, fish and cows, but those tables were turned,” said Jon Van Nieuwenhuyzen, a third-generation manager at the Werkhoven Dairy. “When Tulalip partnered up with us, friendships were formed. You had groups thinking about common problems and responsibilities.”
With a like-minded goal of preserving soil and rivers, the tribe and dairy farmers embarked on the first-of-its-kind undertaking. Van Nieuwenhuyzen said the project offered a successful example of collaboration and the importance of recycling and reusing every resource that you can.
“You have all these people with different expertise that want to see progress and want to be involved with that progress,” he said. “The biggest thing we take away from it is our responsibility to manage and be stewards of everything around us.”
Soon, the Snohomish County Public Utility District will join the coalition. Since 2014, PUD has purchased energy generated by the digester to power the homes of about 300 customers.
A new agreement will put the PUD at the helm of energy production. The goal is to at least double the output from 450 kilowatts to nearly 1 megawatt — enough to power more than 600 homes.
“We will do what we do best, which is take over the operations and the generation of electricity out there, and they’ll do what they do best, which is farming,” said Scott Spahr, a generation engineering manager for the County PUD.
Armed with a budget of $1.5 million, PUD will purchase a new generator and make improvements to increase the plant’s processing power. The facility’s current setup produces more methane gas than the engine can generate into electricity, Spahr said.
Biogas is a top-5 renewable energy source for Snohomish County PUD, he said, and the upgrades to the digester will play a key role for PUD as it transitions to comply with Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act requirements to be 100% carbon-free energy by 2045.
“Biogas is attractive, because it isn’t going anywhere. The thing about solar and wind (energy) is they are great, but they are not so predictable,” Spahr said. “The sun is shining some of the time but not all the time, the wind is blowing some of the time, but not all the time. Biogas is steady, it is just constantly producing.”
Van Nieuwenhuyzen said the new collaboration allows Qualco to take advantage of PUD’s strengths in a way that benefits all parties involved.
“We always kind of consider ourselves dumb farmers, but if we could do it for this long and now we have the opportunity for a partner whose expertise is electrical generation, it makes perfect sense,” Van Nieuwenhuyzen said.




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