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Bioenergy park seeks to turn waste into biogas, electricity

BRATTLEBORO—Construction on the solar array at the Windham Solid Waste Management District’s old landfill should begin in July. But the company in charge of the project, Sky Clean Energy, has bigger plans for the District’s facility.

They want to build a bio-energy park on Old Ferry Road in partnership with the District, and with Putney-based renewable-energy design and operations firm, Dynamic Organics.

Frank Ruffolo, Sky Clean Energy’s executive vice president, rolled out the project’s details at the District’s March 9 Board of Supervisors’ meeting.

The vision, Ruffolo said, is “moving into the future of waste management and recycling,” by getting the best value from the organics and recycling waste streams.

The project’s plans introduce a variety of renewable-energy systems at the site, including a system that utilizes the gas coming from the breakdown of the materials in the capped landfill, an anaerobic digester that breaks down compostable materials and captures that energy to generate electricity and heat, and an organics pre-processing facility.

The latter, the “Windham County Integrated Resource Recycling Project,” will collect unusable food from area wholesalers, retailers, and food banks and separate it from its packaging “to take that last step before the food goes to waste” in the landfill, Ruffolo said.

The timing is strategic.

Compliance without construction?

With Act 148, the state’s universal recycling and composting law, all organic waste — including food — must be diverted from landfills by 2020. This law applies to private homes and large companies.

By working with local food-based businesses, the project’s officials hope to get them into compliance without requiring them to build their own on-site separators. They can send everything to the Brattleboro Bioenergy Park at the District.

Similar organics-diversion laws were also passed in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Ruffolo noted, and plans may include bringing in organics from companies in those states, thus adding to the project’s volume and success.

The public-private partnership will serve the needs of Sky Energy, Dynamic Organics, and the District, Ruffolo said. All three partner entities will work on feasibility studies. Sky Energy and Dynamic Organics will work on the project’s design, permitting, interconnection, and energy sales. The duo will also “package the project for investors and bring them in,” said Ruffolo. These investors will make money from the park’s energy sales.

The District’s tasks will include outreach, screening, and depackaging of the food items, operations, and product marketing, according to the plans Ruffolo presented.

But it’s far from a done deal.

“This project is preliminary. If the feasibility study doesn’t pan out, we won’t do it,” Ruffolo said.

First, the partners must complete a feasibility study to see if it will work — and work in that location. Then they need money — and approval from the District’s Board of Supervisors.

Next steps

Sky Solar and Dynamic Organics officials are working on a grant application for seed money and expect to complete it by the end of March.

According to the plans Ruffolo presented, the feasibility study should be done by May.

If that all pans out, and the District’s Board of Supervisors gives their okay, the design and permitting processes will begin in June and continue until the end of the year. Once that hurdle is cleared, construction will start in January 2018 and go on for about six months.

Readsboro’s alternate Board of Supervisors member Jim Damato asked, “Who is paying for this?"

The plan, Ruffolo said, is to bring in money through private investors, Sky Solar, and from state grants. These funds will also help pay the salaries of the District’s Executive Director Robert Spencer and Program Coordinator Kristen Benoit.

Ruffolo assured Damato, “no money will come from the Windham Solid Waste Management District."

Some of the expected state funding “goes back to [Vermont Yankee] three years ago,” Spencer said, referring to the 2013 settlement Entergy, the shuttered nuclear power plant’s owners, made with the state to provide economic development money for projects in Windham County.

“The money for renewable energy is available,” Spencer said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #401 (Wednesday, March 29, 2017).

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