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Andy Werkhoven, Qualco Contributing Farmer, and Dale Reiner, Cattle Farmer and Qualco Treasurer
In the language of the Salish people, Qualco means "where two rivers come together." At the point where the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers meet, three diverse groups of people came together in 2008 to form Qualco Energy.
Dairy farmers were seeking to protect their land from flooding; Northwest Chinook Recovery was working to improve salmon habitat; and the Tulalip tribes considered the river their life blood. Finding common ground in the river they shared, they formed a nonprofit partnership to operate an anaerobic digester.
The unusual alliance has benefitted both farming and salmon. "Anytime you get environmentalists, farmers and Indian tribes working on a project together, that's a win-win solution," says Mel Sheldon, chairman of the 3,500-member Tulalip tribes.
The gas produced by Qualco's 450 kilowatt generator comes from the manure of 1,300 cows, plus off-site waste, including food grease, whey, expired wine and beer, and fish waste. Producers of the off-site waste provide "tipping fees" to Qualco. Power sales to PSE, along with tipping fees, are expected to put Qualco on solid financial footing by the end of 2012. Since Qualco is a nonprofit organization, it aims to invest the revenue it earns from power sales into renewable-energy projects, natural-habitat restoration and state-of-the-art farming practices.
The next phase for Qualco is to add a second generator that would be able to produce 1.2 megawatts of electricity. The company's ultimate goal is to help start a national movement to turn waste into a fuel source that could meet 15 percent of the US's energy needs. "You're taking all the waste and pollutants out of the environment," says Qualco president John Sayre, "then you're creating energy with it, and ending up with environmentally safe compost that you can use to fertilize your fields. That's one heck of a good thing to do."
PSE electricity customers who would like to join others that support local farms making green energy can do so by visiting the Green Power sign up page and enrolling in the Green Power Program.