TURTLE LAKE — After some delays, a $28.5 million anaerobic digester facility tasked with converting wastewater from northwest Wisconsin food companies into green energy is expected to be operational this June.
GreenWhey Energy Inc. announced Feb. 18 that it has secured the construction and longterm financing needed to build and operate its facility near the intersection of U.S. highways 8 and 63 in Turtle Lake.
The project, among the largest of its kind in the U.S., will help solve a growing problem for area food processors, primarily cheesemakers.
Each day, Green- Whey will convert some 500,000 gallons of wastewater from local food companies, mainly cheese plants, into 3.2 megawatts of renewable energy, process heat and fertilizer, according to GreenWhey President Tom Ludy.
Most of this waste now is being disposed of through land-spreading, which has become problematic, especially in the winter when runoff is a concern.
GreenWhey was formed in 2009 after conversations between Ludy and Larry and Tim Peaster of Northern Liquid Waste Management in Almena about emerging state regulations cracking down on dairy-plant wastewater.
According to a news release, the project may be the first privately owned wastewater treatment facility in Wisconsin that brings the organic waste from multiple food producers to a central facility for treatment and generation into electricity.
Power produced by GreenWhey will be sold to Xcel Energy and be enough to power 3,000 average Wisconsin households.
Turtle Lake Village Board President Laurie Tarman said the completion of GreenWhey will help the village retain current employers in food production including Lake Country Dairy, which Ludy founded in 2001, and World Food Processing.
GreenWhey also could attract other players in the food-production industry, she said. Wisconsin Whey Protein recently built a facility next to GreenWhey.
Tarman said the company will do all this “without stressing the capacity of our municipal sewer treatment plant or having to go back to taxpayers to finance additional plant expansion.”
GreenWhey will directly benefit local food processors that need to manage their wastewater disposal costs to stay competitive.
Randy Schwake, vice president of North American operations for World Food Processing, a global soy food ingredient manufacturer in Turtle Lake, said GreenWhey’s presence made WFP’s decision to locate there easier.
WFP bought the Kerry Food soy protein isolates facility in Turtle Lake in late-2011.
“World Food Processing is dedicated to utilizing (environmental) and sustainable solutions in its business operations wherever possible and was pleased to discover GreenWhey Energy’s waste disposal solution under construction when considering the purchase of the facility in Turtle Lake,” he said.
Other expected local benefits from the project include reduction of wastewater issues associated with phosphorus runoff into nearby waterways.
The digester is expected to cut about 100,000 tons of annual carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. Heat produced will be sold back to local factories, reducing the amount of natural gas needed to run industrial processes.
Water from the facility will go into the village’s water treatment plant, and leftover solids will be dried and sold as fertilizer to area farmers.
Technologies used in the facility, designed by Ecolab, generate and collect methane from organic waste streams. Two large engines and generators from Caterpillar Inc. will convert methane into electricity.
Symbiont Inc. is providing engineering services, and the general contractor is Miron Construction.
GreenWhey supports 50 to 70 construction jobs and will provide up to 13 full-time equivalent operating jobs. The company is owned by its management team and supported by key partner investors, including the Geo Investors Fund.
Clay Norrbom, managing director of Global Infrastructure Asset Management, the general partner of the Geo Investors Renewable Infrastructure Fund I, said this is their first investment in Wisconsin.
“We see opportunities in mid-sized infrastructure projects like GreenWhey that produce renewable energy and address important community needs,” Norrbom said. “This type of project represents the possibilities of how private and public capital can work together to produce energy, create jobs and solve environmental issues all at the same time.”
Project investment was arranged by financial adviser Baker Tilly Capital and comes mostly from private investors, along with state and federal sources.
Financing has included senior loan financing from Caterpillar Financial Services, and New Markets Tax Credit financing from CAP Services Inc. The project also will qualify for a federal grant upon completion of construction, according to a news release. The federal grant is being bridged by a financing agreement that includes a participation from the Wisconsin State Energy Program administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
A similar whey digester facility at Kraft Foods in Beaver Dam is a partnership between Kraft and the municipality and produces about 800 kilowatts of electricity.