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Kevin and Daryl Maas, Farm Power Founders
Kevin Maas and his brother Daryl got into the biogas business because they saw family-owned dairies disappearing, squeezed by financial pressures and environmental regulations. The Maas brothers wanted to preserve a local industry they considered crucial to communities like the one where they were raised, in rural Skagit County, Wash. They began looking for a way to help make dairy farming profitable and sustainable.
In 2007, they launched Farm Power and set out to build a manure digester near their home town of Mount Vernon. Fundraising was a challenge, but it helped that the founders had local roots and an agreement to sell electricity to PSE's Green Power Program, which is supported by participating customers who want to encourage the development of renewable energy. "Farm Power and PSE are a great team," President Kevin Maas said when the agreement was signed, noting that Green Power's commitment brought the digester "One step closer to reality."
The digester opened two and a half years later, and began collecting manure from two nearby dairy farms that had been scraping waste from 1,200 cows into uncovered lagoons. Burning the greenhouse gas that the lagoons formerly released into the air, Farm Power's 750 kilowatt generator produces electricity for PSE's Green Power Program. In addition to fuel, the company's digester produces pathogen-free liquid fertilizer that gets returned to partner-farmers, as well as solid material that the farmers use for cow bedding. The farms save $100,000 to $200,000 a year on bedding, which they now get for free from Farm Power in exchange for providing manure.
Farm Power's goal is to build manure digesters that will serve dairy farms throughout the Pacific Northwest, where most farms are too small to build their own digesters. The company works with groups of dairy farmers, designing and operating regional digesters to make them profitable. Farm Power currently operates digesters in Mount Vernon, Lynden, and Enumclaw, Wash.; as well as Tillamook, Ore. The operations in Washington produce enough electricity for about 1,000 homes, and keep enough methane out of the atmosphere to equal the annual greenhouse-gas emissions of 3,000 cars.
Farm Power's founders like to say that their company operates at "the intersection of sustainable agriculture and renewable energy." PSE customers who would like to join them at the crossroads can support local farms by visiting the Green Power sign up page and enrolling in the Green Power Program.