The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 25, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

Cows Power on display at K-1

KILLINGTON- Live cows greeted skiers and riders at the K-1 Express Gondola, Saturday, Nov. 24 as part of a celebration of the gondola's energy source: cow power. Killington Resort and Green Mountain Power invited guests to learn about how the resort is working with GMP and local Vermont farms to convert methane gas from cow manure to electricity, which is needed to spin the gondola.

The cows were brought on site by one of the participating farms, Blue Spruce Farm in Middlebury.
Staying with Vermont tradition of buying local, the K-1 Express Gondola is powered solely by manure from local dairy farms. In the process, this reduces greenhouse emissions produced by cows and expands the use of the readily available, renewable resource in Vermont. Through Green Mountain Power, Killington Resort has purchased 300,000 kilowatt hours of Cow Power to run the K-1 Express Gondola year round.

So how exactly will Killington Resort power a gondola with cow manure? The power actually comes from methane, a flammable gas that is a major part of natural gas, released from manure as it decomposes. Farms collect cow manure throughout the day, mixing it with wash water from the milking equipment which is then pumped into an anaerobic digester. The slurry flows through a digester for about three weeks at 100°F allowing bacteria to convert the manure into biogas, about 60% methane gas and 40% carbon dioxide.

The biogas is then delivered to a modified natural gas engine, which drives an electric generator to create electricity. Finally, the energy generated is fed onto the GMP electrical system which ultimately powers the K-1 Express Gondola.

The left over manure in the digester does not go to waste; it is separated into solid and liquid portions. The liquid portion is used as enhanced fertilizer and the solids, consisting of plant fibers including grass, corn stalk fibers, grain hulls, etc. can replace sawdust as bedding for the cows.

One cow produces over 30 gallons of manure a day, GMP reports. Now, multiply that by 1,000, the number of cows on a typical Cow Power farm. That's a lot of cow poop!
Currently, 13 Vermont farms, with roughly 10,000 total dairy cows producing 300,000 gallons of manure per day, participate in the GMP Cow Power program and are compensated for their electric generation and the related environmental benefits.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the decomposition of cow manure produces 7 percent of the United States' methane, a gas that is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

However, the process of converting cow manure into renewable energy prevents this harmful methane from reaching the atmosphere. This is an important benefit as methane on dairy farms accounts for the majority of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions. According to Sustainable Conservation, a non-profit group based in California, "If methane digesters were installed on most California dairies, they would protect the climate as much as taking more than one million cars off the road - about 5% of the state's total."

So, not only does the K-1 Express Gondola use a local, renewable source for electricity, but it lessens the amount of greenhouse gases release into the atmosphere. Good for the environment, good for local farms and good for the keeping snow on the mountain!

In addition to the Cow Power program, Killington Resort also offsets 100 percent of the power used at Killington Resort with Renewable Energy Credits (RECs.)

Photo by Chandler Burgess courtesy of Killington Resort