HANSEN, Idaho • Camco Clean Energy was dreaming of a brown Christmas, and two days before the holiday, the London-based sustainable energy developer bought a $2.9 million biogas plant in Hansen that converts dung into electricity.
In all, five biogas facilities in the Magic Valley convert manure from at least 10,000 cows into electricity, and they sell that energy only to Idaho Power. Jerome has two plants, one owned by Cargill and one by Camco. A plant in Filer is run by Rock Creek Dairy, and Big Sky West in Gooding also converts dairy cow waste into electricity, Idaho Power reports.
The Cargill Inc. plant in Hansen that Camco bought gets its manure from Bettencourt Dairies and produces about 2.1 megawatts per hour of electricity.
Of Idaho’s 549,400 dairy cows, 396,545 live in the Magic Valley, said Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen's Association. The manure from 10,000 Bettencourt cows is a drop in the potential Magic Valley bovine biogas bucket.
A bold plan hatched in 2011 calls for 1,300 anaerobic digesters to be converting manure into electricity across the country by 2020. The plan was announced by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the Dairy Research Institute and Idaho’s Center for Advanced Energy Studies.
"Camco is in the business of operating biodigesters," said Greg Wold, former operations manager at Cargill’s Hansen plant. "They are a company that likes and knows how to operate these things. Like many companies they want to grow and are actively looking at acquisitions around the world."
Cargill spent about $8.5 million to build the Hansen biodigester and generator plant, which has been producing methane from the manure since August 2008, the Associated Press reported in 2010.
State utility regulators approved a 10-year contract between Idaho Power and Cargill in 2010.
The biodigester converts liquid and solid manure into electricity that is dumped onto the Idaho Power grid. Byproducts from the process are used as fertilizer and bedding for cows.
"The waste material flows through a series of pipes and pumps and concrete pits to our biodigester," Wold said. "The biodigester converts the manure to methane, which we burn in large engines that is converted to run generators. …The remaining material is a liquid waste that goes into dairy lagoons."
Bettencourt Dairies will continue to supply manure to the Hansen facility and another smaller biodigester in Jerome, said Rick Onaindia, Bettencourt chief financial officer.
Fertilizer from a biodigester is higher quality than what's spread on fields from traditional methods, Onaindia said, and it makes dairies stink less. Bettencourt has been biodigesting its dung for eight years, he said.
"We thought it was the right thing to do," Onaindia said. "We feel it's a better material for farming applications. It does provide a platform to be less of an impact on the land."
Cargill will continue to operate a Jerome biodigester supplied by Bettencourt, Wold said.
"It's one of the best biodigesters we've ever seen," he said. "It's one of the most reliable biodigesters that is out there today. It's easy to operate. …Bettencourt likes having it there. It's a good marriage between us."
But if someone wanted to buy the Jerome biodigester, he said, the company would consider selling it.
Camco’s acquisition of the Hansen facility will generate immediate cash flow for the company and will be a meaningful addition to its existing asset and carbon business, reported 4-Traders.com, an electronic trading platform.
Camco authorities hadn’t returned requests for comment as of deadline Thursday.