Cow Power, the Vermont brand electricity

Sandy Levine | @CLFLevine

This article first appeared in the Sunday May 5 edition of the Rutland Herald /Times Argus.

For over a decade, Vermont’s hardworking cows and farmers have been keeping our lights on, curbing greenhouse gas emissions and helping local businesses grow. The renewable energy produced by cow manure in Vermont now powers 2,990 homes and businesses, including Killington Resort, Long Trail Brewing Company and Vermont Clothing Company.

The greenhouse gas emissions avoided by these projects is equivalent to taking over 9,000 cars off the road each year that would have burned 5.3 million gallons of gasoline.

There is no question — Vermont leads in advancing farm methane projects, and our production of this renewable energy continues to increase. It is a legacy to be proud of, and one that will soon be expanding.

The Cow Power program was started by Central Vermont Public Service in 2002 as a way to meet electric customers’ demand for renewable power. With the merger of CVPS with Green Mountain Power and recent approval from the Vermont Public Service Board, the program is now expanded and available to any customer of Green Mountain Power. That’s a good thing, since farm production of power has outpaced the in-state demand. It is time to close that gap.

The program could be replicated by other utilities or expanded to serve other customers. Perhaps someday it will be available statewide — but for now Cow Power is only available to GMP customers.

GMP customers can sign up for the program and make a voluntary 4 cent per kilowatt hour payment on all or a portion of their electric bill. All the proceeds go to Vermont farmers to produce electricity. And all GMP Cow Power purchases provide customers with 100 percent renewable power. It’s a small investment for a cleaner planet and a healthier future for our children and grandchildren.

Here’s how it works. Manure produced on a farm is put into a digester at the farm. The bacteria in the digester convert the waste into methane gas. The gas fuels an engine that runs an electric generator and creates electricity. Heat generated from this process is used to keep the digester warm. Remaining solids are processed for bedding or soil amendments — and the liquid, which still contains nutrients, is used for fertilizer.

The benefits of GMP Cow Power extend well beyond the supply of electricity. With the volatility of milk prices, the option to produce power provides real economic benefits to farmers in tough times. It also significantly reduces odors, making for happier farmers and neighbors. The gases and compounds that typically produce farm odors and contribute to climate change are captured to produce electricity. The gas keeps lights on — instead of creating a stink.

Vermont businesses have been as creative and hardworking as our farms in turning their use of GMP Cow Power into gold and rightfully expanding Vermont’s solid environmental reputation.

In Woodstock, the trolley that runs through town is operated on Cow Power and features creative posters informing riders about Cow Power and how it helps keep the planet clean.

The Vermont Clothing Company in St. Albans produces Cow Powered T-shirts, which it creatively sells in cardboard milk cartons that describe Cow Power. And as the sole supplier of T-shirts to the Deepak Chopra Foundation, the company enhances the foundation’s commitment to a cleaner and healthier planet.

Killington Resort, a business that depends on snowfall and avoiding a warming climate, is using GMP Cow Power to operate cow-painted gondola cars, while promoting the climate change benefits of Cow Power and its partnership with local dairy farms.

Here’s the real beauty of Cow Power: It’s a 100 percent local program, where 100 percent of the proceeds go to help you and your neighbors create a healthier planet for future generations everywhere. This is a success worth building on and expanding, now that it is available to all 250,000 GMP customers in Vermont.

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