ALTO—Officials at Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility, announced an agreement with Swisslane Farms in Alto to build a biodigester facility that will convert agricultural waste into clean, renewable natural gas, or RNG.
RNG is renewable fuel, interchangeable with conventional natural gas. Produced from organic wastes and other renewable sources, it can help heat Michigan homes, power stoves and dry grain for farmers. RNG is a key technology available to reduce methane emissions, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.
Swisslane Farms, located in Kent County, plans to provide manure from its dairy cows to the production facility, which means the manure would no longer be stored in open lagoons where it produces methane that is released to the atmosphere. Instead, the closed biodigester will contain the manure and capture the methane, clean and condition it, and place it in existing gas pipelines. This methane capture process is equivalent to removing about 4,000 gasoline vehicles from the road each year.
“This project is an exciting first step in a cleaner natural gas future for our customers,” said Greg Salisbury, Consumers Energy’s vice president of gas engineering and supply. “Michigan will need natural gas for years to come. We also expect the role of natural gas to evolve, and RNG provides exciting opportunities to help the environment and the economy. We’re proud to work with the agricultural community to lead Michigan’s clean energy transformation.”
The $17 million project, which requires regulatory approval, could start production in late 2023. Ultimately, the biodigester could produce enough RNG annually to heat nearly 1,000 homes on a cold winter day.
Investments like the Swisslane project contribute to the growth of the RNG industry and provide sectors such as agriculture with innovative opportunities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are proud of the positive impact this will have on our community while combining our passion for caring for the land, our animals and environment,” said Matt Oesch, CEO of Swisslane Farms. “For generations, our family has embodied the role of being stewards of the land. Our partnership with Consumers Energy will allow us to make a positive difference in producing a sustainable, renewable energy source for the generations to come.”
Swisslane Farms recently won the national Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award from the Innovation Center for the United States. The farm also runs Dairy Discovery, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the West Michigan community about the “integrity of production practices and benefits of technology use in the dairy industry.”
The farm has been in the Oesch family since 1915, when current CEO Matt Oesch’s great-grandfather bought it. As a farm owned by the same family for more than 100 years, Swiss Lane is part of the state’s Centennial Farm program, which is supported by the Consumers Energy Foundation.
In 2019, Consumers Energy set a goal to achieve net zero methane emissions by 2030. The plan includes accelerated infrastructure replacement, innovative leak detection and key process changes to eliminate, avoid and minimize methane emissions.
Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest energy provider, is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), providing natural gas and/or electricity to 6.8 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 counties in the Lower Peninsula.