Agribusiness  January 29, 2010

Clean energy park moves into second phase

GREELEY – In just a few years, a site east of downtown Greeley could be bustling with activity, showcasing one of the nation’s first “clean energy parks.”

The city is studying the possibility of creating the Greeley Clean Energy Park, where alternative energy production would be demonstrated in a real-world setting.

Through potential partnerships with JBS USA meatpacking company and Leprino Foods – which intends to construct a cheese-manufacturing facility within the same 220-acre Urban Renewal Authority site – the city is exploring the concept of producing biogas and electrical power from meat, cheese and other organic wastes.

The concept – now in phase 2 of its initial planning – calls for combining organic wastes from Leprino and JBS’s packing plant about one mile north along with biosolids from the city’s water pollution control facility, also located in the URA. By putting the combined material through an anaerobic digester – in which microorganisms consume waste and produce methane – biogas could be created to be burned to make electricity.

An $82,000 grant from the Governor’s Energy Office last year funded the first phase of the study, performed primarily by Fort Collins-based Symbios Technologies LLC, a waste-to-energy project developer.

The study found “the most manageable and profitable scenario” for the project would be a 2-megawatt digester that could process more than 500 tons of waste and produce more than 800,000 cubic feet of biogas daily. The gas could be converted into about 16 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

The study also showed the facility could be built for about $17.3 million. How that might be split remains open for discussion, said Bruce Biggi, Greeley’s economic development manager.

“The report examines all kinds of scenarios of ownership,” he said. “It really depends on who wants to be part of the project.”

Second phase under way

Biggi said the second phase of the project, which received city council approval to move forward in mid-January, will include a closer look at setting up the digester, including choosing the best technology and best location on the site.

“One site might lend itself better than the other but we won’t know that till we know the actual technology that will be deployed,´ said Biggi. “We also need to firm up the parties, the agreements and the type of waste coming in.”

The city has letters of support for the project from Leprino and JBS. Chandler Keys, JBS spokesman, said the company is interested in the concept but is waiting to see how it unfolds.

“We’re working with the city and we’re all waiting to see what happens,” he said. “We’re very interested in this kind of technology, but we want to see what the final proposal looks like.”

JBS recently began construction of its own anaerobic digester for its Grand Island, Neb. plant, Keys said, noting that the company is interested in embracing new technologies.

“I think the key to keep in mind is we’re in a new energy area and we’re looking at new technologies,” he said. “I think in the next 10 years we’ll be generating a lot more energy from biomass.”

Mike Reidy, Leprino Foods vice president, said his company supports the project. “We’re very supportive of any project that allows for the development of more sustainable energy, like this one,” he said. “At the conceptual level, we’re very supportive.”

Reidy said it’s too early to say how much waste Leprino might provide to the digester or whether the company would be interested in being a financial partner in its construction.

One sensitive issue still to be resolved is the city’s desire not to have the project become a source of foul odors. The digester could consume up to 25 semi-truck loads of animal waste from JBS daily. Biggi said the system could be designed to contain odors from trucks, and he said the current study will look at using the old Monfort trunk line – an underground pipe that once pumped wastes from the slaughterhouse to the city’s waste treatment facility.

“It could really eliminate the need to do any trucking at all,” he said of the pipe.

Saving money attractive

JBS could save money by disposing of waste locally rather than hauling it more than 50 miles to a disposal site as it does now. Saving money and having access to cheaper power produced by the digester are two of the biggest attractions for any partners in the project.

Biggi said a variety of financing options are being studied, including having the city pay for it all, partnering with private companies or having a private firm entirely finance it. He said having the project funded 50 percent with public money would offer investors a 15 percent rate of return.

“That’s a very attractive rate,” he said.

But the project may end up being built solely with private money, Biggi noted. “There have been firms very interested in investing in alternative energy projects who have contacted us,” he said, declining to identify the companies.

Biggi said the city hopes to have a “very complete RFP (request for proposals) for design” of the digester facility at the conclusion of the second phase of planning, “by the third or fourth quarter of this year. Our goal is to move as quickly as possible but also cautiously and judiciously.”

JBS spokesman Keys said the world’s biggest meatpacker could have built its own digester in Greeley but wants to see if a partnership with the city might cost less to accomplish the same thing.

“That’s what we’re looking at,” he said. “We’re working with them to see if it’s a good fit for us at the end of the day. We’ve all got more hoops to jump through, but I think the trend in this industry is to utilize everything and not let anything go to waste.”

GREELEY – In just a few years, a site east of downtown Greeley could be bustling with activity, showcasing one of the nation’s first “clean energy parks.”

The city is studying the possibility of creating the Greeley Clean Energy Park, where alternative energy production would be demonstrated in a real-world setting.

Through potential partnerships with JBS USA meatpacking company and Leprino Foods – which intends to construct a cheese-manufacturing facility within the same 220-acre Urban Renewal Authority site – the city is exploring the concept of producing biogas and electrical power from meat, cheese and other organic wastes.

The concept…

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