Okeechobee County welcomes Brightmark Energy

Posted 5/28/20

Partnership with dairy will turn manure into to fuel

OKEECHOBEE — “Our mission is to create a world without waste,” Colin Kelly of Brightmark Energy told the Okeechobee Board of County …

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Okeechobee County welcomes Brightmark Energy

Posted

Partnership with dairy will turn manure into to fuel

OKEECHOBEE — “Our mission is to create a world without waste,” Colin Kelly of Brightmark Energy told the Okeechobee Board of County Commissioners at their May 28 meeting.

County commissioners expressed enthusiasm about the company’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by turning cow manure into fuel and agreed to work out a tax abatement plan to help. Brightmark plans to invest about $30 million in digesters at four Larson dairies in Okeechobee.

Mr. Kelly said agriculture accounts for about 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“We create renewable natural gas from manure waste,” he said. “We take the manure, run it through a digester and it releases natural gas.”

Brightmark provides the capital for the project, he said. “All the Larsons need to do is provide us with manure.” The gas will be delivered via local interstate pipelines.

Mr. Kelly said 230,000 tons of manure per year will yield 171,000 MMBtu of renewable natural gas. Brightmark has already applied for all of the necessary permits. The operation could be online by the third quarter of 2021.

Brightmark already has renewable natural gas plants in the states of Michigan, New York, South Dakota and Washington.

He asked the county for a tax abatement, which would start at 65% of taxable value the first year, and decline to 35% of taxable value by the seventh year. He noted the county provided a 10-year tax abatement incentive for the Florida Power & Light power plant.

The tax abatement will make it feasible for Brightmark to do more to reduce waste, he explained. When the gas from the manure is captured for use as fuel, there is still solid matter left behind. “Something has to be done with the solids,” he said. On option is to use it on site as fertilizer. He said they are aware of the nutrient load issues in the sensitive watershed north of Lake Okeechobee, so they are considering different technologies for disposal of the solids. For example, they could use manure solids as an energy source to heat the gas.

“There would be significant improvement if we could use that kind of technology,” he said. “A tax abatement would help us evaluate that technology.”

Mr. Kelly said the Brightmark project will be contained on the dairy. “We won’t use the roads at all except during construction,” he said. They can connect with pipelines already on the property to transport the gas.

He said they expect to spend $2 million to $2.5 million in operating costs per year. While the project will only employ three to four people, the environmental benefits will be substantial, he said. Environmental benefits include odor reduction, pathogen reduction and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions .

“Agriculture has been getting a black eye for a while,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread. “I’m all for doing everything we can to show the people in Florida that agriculture is doing everything they can to reduce the waste.”

Mr. Kelly said Larson already contains the runoff from the dairies in holding ponds, and meets Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards. “We wouldn’t change that at all,” he assured the commissioners.

“Anything we can do to help our dairy farmers, who have had a hard time here lately, I am in,” said Commissioner Goodbread. Just creating three jobs is not that exciting, but the environmental benefits are important, he added.

Woody Larson said they spent about a year and a half sorting through all of the options for the project. “There are several companies with this technology,” he said. “We felt like this is a sound company with a proven track record in other places, although this is the first one in Florida.” Brightmark is willing to invest a lot of money, he continued. “The fact that we have some pipelines running through the county makes it a nice fit. In our case, we have lines running across the farm so there won’t be any trucks out on the road.

“We’ve worked out a partnership,” Mr. Larson said. “We spent a lot of our time sorting it out, and feel like this is a good outfit and a good fit for us.”

“Reducing the carbon footprint is essential for the environment,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs. “Personally, I’m tired of hearing Rep. (Brian) Mast talk about how bad agriculture is.”

Commissioner David Hazellief asked if the project will impact phosphorus loading. Mr. Larson said the dairies already contain the runoff.

“We spent a lot of money over the years bringing those farms into compliance,” explained Mr. Larson. “We have a pretty good handle on runoff. Most of those farms are closed systems so that we harvest everything and put it back on the land. What this is about is capturing the greenhouse gas that has been escaping into the atmosphere.”

Mr. Kelly said the phosphorus levels at the farms already meet the FDEP regulations but that Brightmark will make attempts to reduce phosphorus even further. He said they are evaluating other technology to reduce phosphorus.

He said the pipeline company will own the pipeline that connects to the digester.

“I am in favor of anything we can do to help not only agriculture but any of our businesses,” said Commissioner Hazellief. “I suggest we find a way to negotiate a tax abatement that is beneficial to both parties.”

Commissioner Hazellief noted Brightmark also has plastics projects. He asked if there is any chance of siting one in Okeechobee County.

“We can talk to you about the plastics project we are developing,” said Mr. Kelly. “Florida is one of the states we are considering.” He added that typically these plants are sited in areas close to large, metropolitan areas, close to the supply of plastic waste.

Commissioner Kelly Owens suggested the county consider a five-year tax abatement plan. The commissioners directed County Administrator Robbie Chartier to negotiate with Brightmark on a tax abatement plan. Mrs. Chartier said such a tax abatement would not go into effect until March 2021.

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