Deerfield methane digester getting hooked up to grid

The Recorder, December 8, 2017, by Richie Davis

DEERFIELD — A $5 million methane digester-power generator that went online at the beginning of March was finally showing signs late this week of being fully connected at Bar-Way Farm, nine months after the 1-megawatt generator was supposed to have been churning out electricity for the power grid.

Eversource crews were at work at the dairy farm, where farmer Peter Melnick had complained in September that the utility had failed to meet several promised dates for hooking up the methane-burning generator to the electric grid.

Meanwhile, two or three trucks a week have been delivering organic food waste from around the state, at the rate of 75 tons, added to about 25 tons of manure a week from Bar-Way’s 500 Holstein cows to meet the obligations of the farm’s partnership with Wellesley-based Vanguard Renewables.

This delay in hooking up to the grid has meant the farm has been losing $80,000 to $100,000 a month in revenue from electricity it’s been producing, and nearly all of the 1 megawatt of the electricity each month has gone to waste, with the exception of what’s been used to keep the digester operating.

While he’s heard similar promises about going online repeatedly from Eversource, which has had difficulty getting its crews to all the renewable energy projects around its territory connected to the electric grid, William Jorgenson, Vangard’s managing director, said, “we believe we’re getting very close.” He’s “very positive” about assurances he’s received from the company that the equipment will be hooked up by Tuesday.

Speaking Friday, Jorgenson said, “As of yesterday the final witness test was completed on site, today a consultant certificate was delivered to Eversource, and with luck we will start putting power onto the grid on Monday. … We are so close.”

Jorgenson said that a delay had been in work that needed to be done at an Eversource substation on the Greenfield line in West Deerfield, and that he had received help from U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., in having the utility make the connection for the project, which was funded with a $335,000 grant from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, along with $400,000 from the state’s Clean Energy Center.

Jorgenson said in September that he’d been assured the project would be connected to the grid in November — work that he said Vanguard had paid Eversource $500,000 for at the beginning of the year.

At the time, Eversource spokeswoman Priscilla Ress blamed delays on changes made by Vanguard as well as Verizon in installing poles to connect the generator to the utility’s substation.

According to Jorgenson’s account, Eversource’s engineering department signed off on the project in October 2016 and then found that there weren’t enough poles installed to make a proper connection.

He said the project has also been stalled by a requirement for “re-closure” equipment at the utility’s substation, to automatically shut off the digester if there is a bad circuit.