Clean Energy Development for Thurston County

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The Evergreen State College is collaborating with study partners Thurston County Solid Waste, Thurston County Water Resources, LOTT Clean Water Alliance, Puget Sound Energy, and the WSU Energy Program to lead a county-wide assessment of the feasibility of converting dairy, food, and other organic wastes into multiple renewable energy and agricultural resources.

Phase 1 study results were presented in a public meeting on Monday, May 9th, 2016. See the presentation HERE and the final report HERE.

PHASE 1: South County Community Digester Project

To support the development of agricultural resources in south Thurston County, the County Commissioners created the Agritourism Overlay District in 2012. The Commissioners soon added the Bountiful Byway to invite visitors to explore the rural back roads of Thurston County so they can get a closer look at agricultural processes and buy local products from rural vendors. However, the work needed to keep the farms operating must go on even when visitors are present. And it is easy to see that conflicts may arise when dairy producers use sunny days that are perfect for tourism to fertilize cropland with stored manure.

Promising Solution: To solve the problem that occurs when visitors and farm smells collide, we would like to study the feasibility of developing a digester project that uses cow manure, food scraps, trap grease, expired beer and other organic materials to produce biogas. Farmers can still get the nutrients and compost they need to fertilize crops and also make other consumer products.

We propose to develop a plan to profitably harvest the bountiful clean energy potential of rural Thurston County to support and invigorate agritourism.Developing a Plan to Harvest Clean Energy and Invigorate Agritourism

Our goal is to outline a plan to produce marketable energy from biogas, plus other products, in a community digester that will generate return on investment sufficient to attract capital investments.

The first step is to conduct a feasibility analysis, which will require:

  • Inventorying organics residuals/resources – Manure (dairy and chicken), food/seafood processing scraps and other food residuals within a 10- to 15-mile radius of a potential digester site, including food service facilities at schools and business campuses.
  • Building relationships through outreach and education – Reach out to collaborators and the public; catalog their goals, interests, and concerns; and explore opportunities for partnerships.
  • Assessing existing assets – Study local dairy and chicken farms as well as county and tribal facilities to identify potential locations for the community digester. These locations must be close to organic residuals, end markets, and electrical and fuel assets.
  • Assessing potential opportunities – Explore and analyze opportunities in south Thurston County for significant power/fuel offsets, use of digested nutrients, environmental benefits, co-product development and use, workforce development, and other project co-benefits.
  • Evaluating project options for feasibility – Develop up to three reasonable options for project development that examine issues related to location, feedstocks, ownership, partners, finance, and other resources. Study the economic and environmental costs and benefits of each option.
  • Preparing a plan for the next phase of clean energy development in Thurston County.
Providing Information for Decision-Makers

The project team will provide information that the county’s decision-makers need to make informed decisions that support the needs of county residents.

  • A draft feasibility study and development plan report for review.
  • A final revised report that will describe the:
    • Details of the feedstock inventory, asset analysis, and opportunities for exploration,
    • Options that were studied,
    • Economic and environmental cost analyses and benefits for each option, and
    • Plan for the next phase of digester development, including the results of return-on-investment calculations and sensitivity analyses.
  • A graphical presentation that details the study methodology and conclusions, and describes the digester development plan. If appropriate, the presentation will be given to the:
    • Thurston County Commissioners, and
    • Harvesting energy ad hoc meeting with farmers, tribes and other stakeholders.
Project Team

The WSU Energy Program alternative fuels team, led by Jim Jensen, will work in partnership with the WSU Thurston County Extension and the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources to develop a plan to bring a community digester to south Thurston County.

Our team will collaborate with:

  • Thurston County Commissioners
  • Thurston County Department of Solid Waste and Department of Regional Sustainability
  • Thurston County Water Resources
  • LOTT Clean Water Alliance
  • Thurston County Conservation District to assist with manure data collection and information release
  • Tribal governments from the Chehalis, Nisqually and Squaxin tribes
  • Washington State Department of Commerce
  • Washington State Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 10
  • Washington State Dairy Federation
  • Puget Sound Energy

The project team will work with the following assumptions:

  • The development focus is south Thurston County, especially the farms around Rochester.
  • The farmers are willing to provide sufficient data and will cooperate to adequately assess project potential.
  • Tribal interests will participate to identify shared interests.
  • Vendors, utilities and energy companies are forthcoming about their interests and the costs involved with doing business together.
For more information, contact:

Jim Jensen Alternative Fuels Specialist
WSU Energy Program
JensenJ (at)

Read more HERE.