Midwest Energy News published an article today highlighting the political challenges facing small-scale renewable energy projects in Wisconsin.

Innovative Farm Energy Projects Clash with Wisconsin Policy

Published by Midwest Energy News on 05/22/2014 by Kari Lydersen

The farming region of central Wisconsin presents a bucolic image, home to rolling fields, numerous dairies and a family-owned chicken processing plant that started in 1925 with two brothers delivering eggs and livestock.

These operations also produce a lot of waste, including countless tons of manure and the detritus from processing poultry.

Now Chester Dairy and Brakebush Brothers are teaming up through a Milwaukee-based company to turn that unsightly waste into renewable heat and power.

Clean Energy North America is building a biodigester on New Chester’s land, which will extract methane from the dairy’s manure and from the waste of nearby food processors including Brakebush. The biogas will be sent via an underground pipeline to Brakebush’s plant about 16 miles away. There it will be burned to generate up to 7 MW of electricity, supplying more than 80 percent of Brakebush’s load. And the waste heat from the generation will be used for Brakebush’s hot water.

That means Brakebush– a national company that distributes chickens to schools, restaurants and the military — will drastically reduce its need for natural gas for heating and electricity from the grid that would likely come from coal-fired power plants. And the manure and other waste will be turned into an efficient fertilizer, reducing the problems posed by bacteria and run-off when manure is applied directly to fields.

This project, called New Chester Clean Energy, is an example of the creative renewable energy and combined heat and power operations that could help farms across the Midwest save on energy costs and reduce their environmental impact and carbon footprint.

But such projects depend on a favorable climate from local utilities and state regulators and legislators.

Wisconsin is not considered politically hospitable to distributed renewable energy projects like this, as outlined in a report last year by the Wisconsin Energy Institute. Clean Energy North America vice president Murray Sim, an expert who has worked at utilities in the Midwest and abroad, said the company will likely not do another such project in the state anytime soon.

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