HAVERHILL — A local farm has received the go-ahead to begin turning animal waste into energy — and will save the city an estimated $300,000 as a result.

The City Council inked a deal Tuesday with Vanguard Renewables of Wellesley to purchase power generated by an anerobic digester at Bradford's Crescent Farms for 13 cents a kilowatt hour.

The digester, which converts the methane gas from cow manure into electricity, will produce one megawatt of power, according to Orlando Pacheco, the city's purchasing director and energy manager.

Vanguard Renewables completed its site assignment with the city's Board of Health in April and is expected to have the digester up and running within nine to 15 months. Pacheco said the power purchasing agreement with Vanguard saves the city 5 cents per kilowatt hour.

While the city has approved a litany of solar energy projects and signed numerous power purchasing agreements over the last few years, anaerobic digestion is a first-time venture.

Crescent Farm's owner, Michael Davidowicz, told The Eagle-Tribune last month that he wants to put the digester on his property to reduce his own costs at the Willow Street farm, which has 185 cows and has been in his family for three generations.

Where solar panels produce a steady stream of energy from when they go online, Pacheco told the council that the anerobic digester will "start out slow" but will produce more and more electricity over time.

He also stated that solar panels tend to degrade over time, while the anerobic digester will last as long as "the cows keep pooping."

The electricity generated by the digester, which will be located behind Crescent Farm's main barn, will be transferred to the city through the purchase of net metering credits from National Grid. 

This is the same way the city buys solar power, Pacheco said.

"What we're hoping as this process unfolds is to try and loop in more involvement from the School Department in providing food waste," Pacheco added. "Restaurants that are subject to the Department of Environmental Protection's food waste ban, they need a place to unload their waste."

Councilor Melinda Barrett, who has long battled loud early morning noises from trucks passing through in Bradford, questioned whether the trucks which would carry food waste to the digester, which is located off of Willow Street, would be limited to certain routes they could use to transport waste.

"You want them to take the highway, get off in Ward Hill, and get in and get out quickly," Barrett said. "Rotten tomatoes really smell rotten."

She added, "I just want the trucks to come in directly as possible and disturb as little as possible." 

Pacheco said that while the city's purchasing agreement doesn't restrict routes for trucks carrying waste to the facility, the offensive odors of that waste — the methane gas — is what makes the digester go.

"The byproduct of (the waste) is clean fertilizer that they're taking the odor out of," he said.

Prior to the council vote to approve the purchasing agreement, Pacheco said the city will have to pursue other ways to create reusable energy like this one.

"Every municipality I see out there is trying to do the same thing the same way — and they're wondering why they don't have any money," he said. "We're going to have to think outside the box and develop a different approach."

Follow Peter Francis on Twitter @PeterMFrancis

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