The proposed manure biodigester that was the spotlight of Kewaunee County’s solution to excess manure has quietly moved to the Town of Holland in Brown County. A press release from the Public Service Commission (PSC) announced a $15 million grant for the project and local government officials don’t know much more than that.
“They don’t tell you too much about what the hell is going on,” said Jerry Wall, Holland Town Chair.
“It was a little bit concerning to Kewaunee County that we were not privy to the proposals that were being entertained in Madison because, just like the example in Kewaunee County, they’re going to have to live with the project as proposed,” said Kewaunee County Board Chair Robert Weidner.
Throughout 2016, Kewaunee County played host to several meetings of local and state officials touting the value of a biodigester in the county. The PSC awarded the county with a $50,000 grant to seek proposals for the digester in Kewaunee County. Governor Scott Walker, former DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp and several other state officials singled out Kewaunee County as the premier spot for the technology.
“A digester system that can also treat water and reduce pathogens is yet another tool that can be used to improve water quality in Kewaunee County and elsewhere,” said Stepp in November 2016.
Russ Rasmussen, DNR spokesperson for CAFO issues, stated in February that the project is not intended exclusively for Kewaunee County, but rather the Lake Michigan watershed.
Wall said a meeting in early September between the town, the PSC and the biodigester company, BC Organics, was canceled and rescheduled for Oct. 2.
According to Wall, 22 small farms and four large farms have signed up to send their waste to the facility. All of those farms are in Brown County. The press release from PSC on Sept. 15 stated the project has commitments from nine Wisconsin farms with more than 22,000 animal units.
The proposal from BC Organics was the only one of three to score high enough to be awarded the $15 million grant from the Focus on Energy program, which offers grants for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Another proposal from Appleton-based U.S. Venture would have located the digester in Kewaunee County, but was not awarded the grant funds.
“A large-scale project like this, we had some bugs in it and we would have been the test case for that if it would have been in Kewaunee County,” said Weidner. “I’m not entirely disappointed it’s in Brown County because it gives us time to look at the success or issues.”
But the county did end up spending $21,000 during the original proposal phase of the digester.
Following the $50,000 grant from the PSC, the county contracted Seymour-based Roach & Associates to draft a proposal, but the company “was not able to complete it in a satisfactory manner as the PSC evaluated it,” said Weidner.
The $50,000 went to another company who completed the proposal, and Roach & Associates sued the county for compensation. On Sept. 19, the Kewaunee County Board passed a resolution authorizing a settlement payment of $21,000 to the company.
Weidner did not know if Kewaunee County farmers will be allowed to haul their waste to the facility. It is expected to begin operation by Jan. 1, 2019.