Opinion: Renewable gas will help Maine reach its climate goals

Apr 25, 2024
by Jenni Tilton-Flood
Source: Portland Press Herald

Dirigo. It’s not just a motto; it’s a way of life for us Mainers. It’s about taking charge and leading the nation, whether it’s in business, technology, or showing our commitment to community and climate. As a dairy farmer here in Maine I feel this keenly. For me, it’s a guiding principle.

This is why recent attempts to limit access to energy choice in Maine are discouraging. A proposal this past session called for banning the expansion of gas distribution systems in Maine even though natural gas is lower emissions and lower cost than other fuel sources. While I’m relieved that reason prevailed in the Legislature and the proposal was rejected, its very consideration remains troubling.

Many may wonder why a family dairy farmer cares so passionately about energy choice.

As a farmer, I like to think of myself as a person who feeds the state. I feed my family, my friends and my neighbors. Through our family dairy farm, cows and working lands, we produce fresh, quality, local Maine milk that finds its way onto your tables in its natural state of milk or as cheese, butter, or many other products Mainers have come to expect to fill their tummies.

Thanks to a partnership with Summit Natural Gas of Maine, Summit’s affiliate Peak’s Renewables and Flood Brothers Farm, we’re feeding Maine in a new way, with homegrown energy using the manure from our cows and the cows from multiple other dairy farms across the state.

In 2019, Summit and Peaks approached us to create one of the nation’s first community dairy digesters at our farm. The project would require the construction of a manure processing facility that would help family farmers operate more sustainably by providing a way to manage the manure and reduce the emissions it generates by creating renewable, pipeline-quality gas to warm homes, fuel businesses and the power industry.

Today, that digester is operating and providing many economic, energy and environmental benefits to rural Maine and the rest of the state by capturing the methane from the manure at our farm and using it to create a carbon-negative gas that takes more emissions out of the air in the form of captured methane than is put back into the air when burned at the burner tip.

Renewable gas isn’t limited to agriculture; it can come from food waste and landfills too. It’s estimated the facility at our farm avoids emissions equating to 28,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. That’s the equivalent of taking 6,500 cars off the road for every year it operates.

The gas from this facility is put directly onto Summit Natural Gas of Maine’s pipes and delivered to homes, businesses and industry throughout the state while the renewable attributes (like carbon credits) of the gas are sold to third parties much like what we see happen with solar and wind projects. This initiative showcases Maine’s ingenuity and resourcefulness. It boosts rural investment, cuts emissions, and underscores the importance of sustainable energy solutions.

Maine’s dairy community and industry is critical to the strength of the state’s economy and environment. We are constantly looking for innovative ways to enhance the sustainability and increase the circularity of our operations. Just as we look for new ways to reduce the impact of growing and producing nutritious food, it’s critical the state also look for new, innovative ways to reduce the emissions of our energy system while maximizing resources. This means – though vitally important – we have to look beyond wind and solar to reach our climate goals. The state’s gas pipeline system is an important piece of that puzzle and the renewable natural gas facility at our farm is a great example of why.

Now that the state has rejected language that would ban the expansion of gas distribution systems, I hope we can once again lead in Maine’s way by preserving energy choice and making sure the RNG facility at our farm isn’t Maine’s last.