Cabot Creamery Biodigester Project Clearing Hurdles

by June Pichel Cook

CABOT – The petition of Agri-Mark, Inc./Cabot Creamery for a Certificate of Public Good (CPG), presented to the Public Utilities Commission on November 24, 2020, has been clearing procedural hurdles. 

courtesy photo | Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamery is seeking a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Utilities Commission for a 250 kw biodigester and electric generation facility located on their property off Whittier Hill in Cabot.

The petition seeks approval for the installation, construction, and operation of a 250kW biodigester and electric generation facility, to be located off Whittier Hill. It would be constructed within the existing facility property.

The anaerobic digester would convert bio-products from milk processing wash water to methane gas, which will provide fuel to a new electric generator. The additional infrastructure to be constructed includes a 125,000-gallon equalizer tank, pump house, backup generator, underground piping, and new access road. 

Agri-Mark, Inc./Cabot Creamery lawyers Andrew N. Raubvogel and Victoria M. Westgate filed the Petition for Certificate of Public Good Pursuant to 30 V.S.A. Sect. 248(j). The project is being developed under Vermont’s Standard Offer Program and will occupy approximately 8,000 square feet within a 1.5-acre paved and graveled area at the existing facility.

The project has been explained as converting dairy processing wash water, a byproduct of the Creamery’s milk processing operations, into heat (for on-site use) and electricity.

In a phone interview, Cabot Creamery Environmental Engineer Aaron Page explained, “We collect wash water and with the biodigester we are adding a treatment step to the wash water and creating heat and electricity. As such, in addition to heat and electricity, the project will generate an anaerobically treated effluent to include all of the wash water generated at the site.” 

Currently, the wash water from sanitizing at the plant is sprayed on fields and that process will continue.

In a press release, Ann Sheridan, communications director for Cabot Creamery, described the biodigester project as “phase one of a three-phase process related to the enhanced treatment of our wash water that could eventually eliminate the need for trucking for land spreading.”

She indicated a key factor to be considered is financing; however, no estimated costs for the biodigester project have been forthcoming.

The electricity generated would be sold to Green Mountain Power at a rate of $0.208/kwh, according to Page. He noted, “The agreement is through the Vermont Standard Offer Program, which is a legislated program to encourage small distributed renewable energy projects to enable Vermont to reach its renewable energy goals.”

In public documents submitted to the Public Utilities Commission on January 14, 2021, Elm Street resident Theresa Lay-Sleeper first raised concerns about air quality from the methane gas generated, lighting, noise levels from the project. Although her property does not abut the project, it is in direct view. The 125,000 gallon equalizer tank to be installed is 25 feet in diameter and 35 feet high and placed higher on the hillside than the current towers. It is in her direct sight line. She noted that the co-generation plant’s location is at the top of the hill, above the tallest silos of the Creamery. 

Since her initial comments, however, Lay-Sleeper has indicated her support of the project. Working with neighbors to resolve concerns is ongoing, and Lay-Sleeper acknowledged “management’s (Cabot Creamery) willingness to consider the needs of a mixed-use industrial-residential neighborhood.” In her letter to the PUC, she noted that “coniferous plantings will alleviate a good deal of light and noise expected, and create a more pleasing hillside view.”

“The big bonus is consideration of a new sound curtain and additional conifer plantings to remedy the worst of the current noise problems.”

Page noted that “We have been working with neighbors to address any concerns. We recently submitted a planting plan and memorandum on safety considerations in a February 4 supplemental filing, which we hope adequately addresses concerns voiced by our neighbors.”

Attorneys Raubvogel and Westgate on February 4, 2021, filed their Response to Public Comments to address concerns that had been raised. They noted that the Division of Historic Preservation had found the project site was unlikely to have any effect on historic sites listed in or eligible for inclusion in the State Register of Historic Places.

An issue raised by Cabot resident Joanne Garton about the biodigester posing an explosion risk was answered. An Emergency Action Plan, the Creamery now holds, will cover the project, and Raubvogel and Westgate concluded the project “does not pose undue adverse risks to public or worker safety.”

They reported that the Department of Public Service has reviewed the petition for the CPG and felt the project “does not raise a substantial issue under Section 248 and will serve the general good of the state.” 

An issue about permitting review under Section 248 of Vermont statutes remains unresolved with the Agency of Natural Resources.

In their conclusion, Raubvogel and Westgate wrote: “In sum, AMCC (Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamery) respectfully requests that the Commission determine that the project meets the requirements of Section 248(j) and issue a CPG forthwith, or in the alternative, set the proposed schedule for limited additional process for the proceeding.” 

Cabot Town Clerk Betty Ritter said that “We haven’t signed off on anything. We are still listening and haven’t made any statements.”