Peaks Renewables, a subsidiary of Summit Utilities Inc., recently broke ground in Kennebec County on Maine’s first natural gas dairy digester — a source of renewable energy that may also help reduce emissions, create jobs and support local farms.
The project, which was first announced in 2019, had a goal of creating home-grown renewable natural gas that can be used to warm homes and fuel industry. The company is working with six Maine-based, family-owned dairy farms to generate homegrown RNG.
Located at Flood Brothers' farm in Clinton, the project will receive dairy manure from the Floods, as well as from Gold Top Farm, Somerset Farm, Wright Place Farm, Taylor Dairy Farm, Heifer Haven Farm and other agriculture businesses.
Once in the digester, the manure will be heated and decomposed, creating biogas. The gas will then be cleaned to make it pipeline-quality. The gas will be purchased by Peaks' affiliate company, Summit Natural Gas of Maine, and used to provide gas service to its thousands of customers throughout the state. Renewable energy credits will also be sold to third parties who need them for their own decarbonization requirements.
The project will produce the equivalent of about 45% of Summit's residential gas demand in Maine, the company said. Carbon-beneficial RNG is functionally identical to traditional natural gas and can be used for heating, cooking and other processes.
Peaks estimates that the facility will avoid emissions equating to 28,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. That's the equivalent of taking 6,500 cars off the road for every year it operates.
The facility will also produce animal bedding and fertilizer that will be returned to the local dairy farms participating in the project to use in their daily operations.
According to the companies, this manure-only project is the first of its kind in Maine and joins a number of generation facilities across the country that are already using the RNG technology.
RNG, also known as biomethane, is derived from the decomposition of naturally occurring organic waste from landfills, waste treatment plants, industrial sites and farms. Unless captured and reused, much of the emissions created from the organic waste at these facilities would be released into the atmosphere in the form of methane, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gasses.
"Maine is the most heating-oil dependent state in the country, with more than 60 percent of households reliant on oil to heat their homes in the winter months. This project has the potential to move Maine towards greater energy independence while reducing emissions and providing additional support for Maine's dairy farmers,” said Dan Burgess, director of the Maine Governor's Energy Office.
"For family farms like ours, the challenges of navigating the dairy industry in the 21st century while balancing the challenges of climate and change mean finding new and sustainable ways to protect our land for future generations, care for our animals, and produce fresh, quality milk for our neighbors. This project is very important to our family and the future viability of our farm,” said Jenni Tilton-Flood of Flood Brothers Farm.
Peaks Renewables is a renewable energy development company specializing in the development of low carbon, carbon-neutral and carbon-negative fuels like renewable natural gas and green hydrogen. Peaks is a subsidiary of Summit Utilities Inc. and an affiliate of Summit Natural Gas of Maine.
Summit Utilities Inc. owns natural gas distribution and transmission subsidiaries that operate in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Overall, Summit entities serve about 625,000 customers and operate more than 23,400 miles of pipeline.