SPENCERVILLE – His farm’s high power bill prompted dairy farmer Doug Cleary to investigate methods of cutting his dependency on Hydro One a couple of years ago.
Before arriving at his decision to buy a $1.3-million biogas system, Cleary toyed with the idea of using a soy-oil-fuelled diesel generator to power his barn, but only during peak consumption at milking time.
The intent, he explained, was to cut his farm’s reliance on the grid just enough to stay under the threshold where Hydro One’s higher electricity prices kick in.
"If we have demand over 50 kW/h in a month, then we pay a higher rate," explained Cleary, whose operation runs on three-phase power. "We’re generally at 60- to 70 kW/h."
Research into the subject led him to Bill Kemp, vice-president of engineering at Powerbase Systems Inc., who persuaded the farmer to go the route of turning the manure from his milking herd of 150 into enough power to supply all of his needs.
With the help of provincial and federal grants totalling $600,000, the Cleary farm will become the site of the second manure-based biodigestion system sold and installed in Ontario by the Carleton Place firm.
Cleary said he hopes that three months of construction on the half-megawatt project (500 kilowatts) will begin as early as the end of this month.
Approximately 50 to 70 kW/h of the energy produced will come from methane captured from the farm’s manure - about 10 per cent - with the balance generated from restaurant waste to be processed through the same biodigester being built on the farm.
Cylindrical and made of steel, the 1,500 cubic-meter biodigester will sit above ground. Rather than a flexible membrane covering the top of the giant container - a system employed with some methane-capture systems - Cleary’s will have a rigid geodesic dome made of aluminum.
The methane will be piped over to three 175 kilowatt Cummings engines, turning the gas into electricity.
Cleary said he appreciated the "turnkey" nature of Powerbase’s offering, which includes maintenance support.
"My main job will be to get the manure into it."
He said his capital cost should be recouped in five or six years.
The business model includes selling the excess power back into the grid, as well as collecting tipping fees from the restaurant waste (up to 5,000 cubic meters per year), supplied through Organic Resource Management of Toronto. And of course, he won’t be buying power from Hydro One anymore.
"I see no downside with this at all," he said.