Erath County has gone green. Al Gore should be proud. Eight 916,000-gallon digester towers converting animal and other environmental wastes into methane gas are now in full operation.

On Monday, the Environmental Power Corporation (EPC), a leader in the renewable bioenergy industry, celebrated the completion of the Huckabay Ridge facility. State and local dignitaries attended the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“We are very pleased to have completed the construction of the facility and are transitioning to full output,” said Richard Kessel, president/CEO of EPC. “All eight of the digesters are operational and producing biogas which is being conditioned for sale as renewable natural gas (RNG). It is a testament to the hard work and cooperation of many people who have made this unique project a success.”

Microgy, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of EPC, designed, constructed, owns, and operates the facility. It has invested $12 million in the Texas project. The company holds an exclusive license in North America for the development and deployment of a proprietary anaerobic digestion technology for the extraction of methane gas from animal wastes for its use to generate energy. In other words, it liquefies manure.

The eight towers are expected to produce an aggregate of one billion cubic feet of biogas per year with energy content of 650,000 million BTU, equivalent to 12,000 gallons per day of heating oil. The Lower Colorado River Authority already has agreed to purchase gas from the facility, and Pacific Gas & Electric Company's 10-year agreement will begin Oct. 2008, to receive deliveries of up to 2,000 MM BTU per day via pipeline, Kessel said.

“Renewable gas is good for the environment. Texas has a lot of biogas. It can be processed where it is found in a large concentration,” said Susan Combs, Texas state comptroller. “Erath County is that kind of place.”

According to Kessel, the environmental benefits to processing manure into fuel include cleaner air and water. Some dairies get rid of manure by sluicing it off to lagoons, which produce methane that escapes into the air. Methane has a global warming effect that is 21 times that of carbon dioxide, so using the methane for energy production significantly reduces greenhouse gas emission.

“And because manure that is used in the biogas plant is not washed off land surfaces by rain and irrigation into local rivers and streams, the local watershed also benefits,” Kessel said.

Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples said, “Texas has been a leader in agriculture and energy. We will meet the energy needs of the future.”

He said the day's occasion was beyond successful.

“Today is a winning solution with an operation such as Huckabay Ridge,” he said. “It is good for Texas and our nation. It means alternative methods are being developed, creating new opportunities and numerous jobs.”

Ten local dairies already are moving their manure to Huckabay Ridge's compost yard for use in the digester.

“The Texas Association of Dairymen strongly supports any technology or process which helps a dairy to utilize the dairy's byproduct in a beneficial way,” said John Cowan, TAD's executive director. “We commend EPC and other companies that are making innovative steps to provide new sources of energy in an environmentally sustainable manner.”

Cowan said that experts predict Texas could face an energy shortage in the not-so-distant future.

“At the same time, there are about 335,000 dairy cows in Texas that never stop producing manure along with milk,” he said. Cowan said TAD and its dairy members hope they can work with other companies in the future to turn manure into usable energy.

State Representative Sid Miller (R-Stephenville), chairman of the agriculture and livestock commission, said he was impressed by the facility.

“It is a major milestone,” Miller said. “Erath County has always been known for food and fiber. Now, it's food, fiber, and fuel.”

According to a new release by the University of Tennessee Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas will lead the nation in renewable fuel production and will reap a $22.8 billion boost to the economy in the process.

SHERRY BOARDMAN is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune and can be reached at sherry.boardman@empiretribune.com or 254-965-3124, ext. 229.