OUTLOOK - The George DeRuyter and Sons Dairy near Outlook has found a new way to deal with the manure its 8,000 cows produce.
They're selling it to Pacific Power and Light.
Providing a brown tint to the green power movement, the dairy is producing electricity from methane gas generated by the manure.
The dairy, in turn, sells that power directly to PP&L. The utility has power lines running to a DeRuyter building that houses two 900 horsepower engines which convert methane into electricity.
The centerpiece of the project is a covered 16-foot concrete pit the size of a football field.
Known as an anaerobic digester, the pit stores manure for a period of 21 days and heats it to 101 degrees.
The temperature is crucial, because at 101 degrees microbes form that convert the manure into methane. The methane is then pumped into the building which houses the generators.
It's a simple idea.
"My dad (George) had the idea years ago," said Dan DeRuyter, who operates the dairy. "They just didn't have the technology at the time."
The technology is here, but it comes with a hefty price tag of about $4 million.
The DeRuyter dairy received support from national, state and local officials in meeting the cost to explore a relatively new source of alternative energy.
DeRuyter garnered a low-interest loan from the state, a federal grant and Yakima County's authorization to issue low interest, tax-exempt bonds.
Dan said he was attracted to the possibilities of a digester after seeing one at work in Lynden, which is still the state's only other digester besides the one at the Outlook dairy.
He was hooked after seeing a digester survive the cold winters of Wisconsin.
Construction on the digester began last summer and the DeRuyter dairy started producing electricity two months ago. At peak production it is expected to produce enough electricity to power 200 homes in PP&L's energy grid. And that's a conservative estimate.
DeRuyter said the utility has told him the digester process is actually a preferred alternative to wind power.
After all, wind power is dependent on wind. By contrast, there's always a ready supply of cow manure.
The process is more than just processing poo into power, though. It is a total recycling effort.
Nothing is wasted from this cattle waste.
Hot water produced from cooling the generators is piped to DeRuyter's barn for clean-up purposes.
The digester process reduces the manure to a peat moss substance that DeRuyter plans to market and sell.
Another by-product from the digester is a better smelling neighborhood.
DeRuyter is confident the operation will turn a profit for the dairy once it's in full production.
That's not to say the digester isn't up and running or that the cows aren't, well, producing.
No, the last task in getting the power plant at full peak is getting all the manure to the digester. DeRuyter estimates that last hurdle should be cleared within a week.
"This dairy has been around awhile," he smiled. "It wasn't built to accommodate moving manure.