Biofuel plant set to break ground

October 15, 2013 • Local News

AG Power’s plant that will convert dairy waste into biogas at Prices Lane and Tumbleweed Road will break ground Friday. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)

A power company will break ground Friday on a plant that will start turning Chaves County dairy manure into biofuel.

AG Power Inc. will start building the first of four projects to begin taking the county’s massive hills of manure, mix it with wastewater and send it underground to facilities that will separate out methane gas.

The product is piped downstream, converted into compressed natural gas and eventually pumped to California to fuel vehicles.

“There’s really no downside to this to the dairymen,” said Charlie Degroot, owner of Three Amigos Dairy.

AG Power’s ground breaking signifies the beginning of a partnership for the company with the community, said President Dewey Vaughn.

“It’s a big day for the dairies and the dairy industry. It’s a big day for Roswell,” Vaughn said. “It’s a big day to show this area how it can reduce the odor and reduce the [auth] pest population.”

The company expects to begin operating its first plant by April or May, Vaughn said.

Area dairies currently truck the manure to other local farms to be applied to land. The disposal is free, but it costs dairy operations to dispose of the waste.

“It’s a huge expense for us to get rid of it,” Degroot said. “Before, the manure was used as a fertilizer, but now it will be producing energy that will benefit a much broader spectrum of users.”

The dairies in Chaves County have been trying to put a project together to deal with the manure for seven years, Degroot said. But investors have not come up with a viable plan, until now.

“We believe this is a go,” Degroot said. “They have the project lined out. Putting this plan together is going to be a great boon to our local dairymen and local economy. It’s a win-win and it looks like it’s going to work fantastically.”

The manure will be gathered daily by AG Power employees at the dairy sites. Then, it will be mixed with “green” water, which is water contaminated while used in dairy operations, and pumped at each dairy site to an AG Power plant.

Fewer trucks hauling cow manure will be on the road as a result. And, hopefully, the not-so-pleasant odor and fly population also will be reduced.

The first project will include seven dairies. Four projects will take in a total of 22 dairies and employ about 45 people, Vaughn said.

Vaughn spoke about the plan to a gathering of the board of directors of the Southeastern New Mexico Economic Development District Council of Governments Oct. 11.

“We’re not pumping manure all the way to California,” Vaughn said, jokingly. “That’s not the case. We’re refining agriculture waste and turning it into usable fuel.”

The plan is not “green” but is classified as an advanced biofuel operation.

“We are renewable and we are sustainable,” he said. “We see this as a positive driver for your community.”

As of June, about 200 projects similar to the Chaves County project were operational, but most of those generate power, Vaughn said.

“The project itself addresses a critical need of the dairy industry, and that is getting rid of the waste that produces nitrates that are of a concern to the (New Mexico) Environment Department,” said Commissioner Greg Nibert.

County Commissioners will make a final decision Thursday on a resolution authorizing the issuance and sale of $20 million in Pollution Control Bonds for the project.

The bonds are similar to Industrial Bonds. The county will own the land, at the corner of Prices Lane and Tumbleweed Road near Three Amigos Dairy. The land will not be subject to county property taxes, but AG Power will pay taxes to government entities—such as schools, flood control and the county—in the same amount as it would pay in property taxes, Vaughn said.

“At the end of the day, (the county) and the other government entities are made whole,” Nibert said.

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