A $244,000 USDA Rural Energy for America Program grant has been awarded to Fort Hill Farm AG-Grid LLC.
The announcement followed a visit to Fort Hill Farms by US Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Oct. 30. The grant will be used for the purchase and installation of a 450kW anaerobic digester.
The 850,000 gallon digester will process manure and food waste into biofuel to be converted into electricity. The project is expected to generate power for farm operations with about 90 percent sold to three municipalities. This will be Connecticut’s first digester to convert waste to energy. The state has two digesters now, one in Southington and another in East Canaan.
AG-Grid Energy founder and CEO Rashi Akki was on site to explain the technical details and business model for the project. The project started in October 2016 when Akki met Peter Orr at a conference. Orr’s daughter, Kies, has taken over ownership of the farm since his death in 2017.
“We need to diversify,” said Kies, a fourth generation dairy farmer. “There’s no money in milk. The digester will bring in revenue for the farm.”
Fort Hill Farms currently has 210 milking cows and 500 total cows. They are a member of the Farmers Cow Cooperative.
The project faces several hurdles. The total cost of the digester will be about $5 million. It will run on manure and food waste, but sources for the food waste need to be cultivated. They are currently working with Blue Earth Compost in Hartford as one source.
Because it is the state’s first project of its kind, Akki and Orr had input on the permitting process for virtual net metering. It would allow them to produce energy and sell to municipalities, agricultural businesses or the state.
A grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service will be used to construct a storage lagoon. And an Investment Tax Credit partner will invest 30 percent of the budget costs. Construction is planned for early 2019 with a completion date by late December 2019.
Blumenthal authored a food waste program in the Farm Bill currently being debated that could provide additional investment for the project.
Blumenthal called it a visionary concept.
“I’m excited by the pioneering work being done by this family to produce better, more nutritious food but also to create renewable energy for our future,” he said.