Sonoma County approves $48 million 'farms to fuel' project

SANTA ROSA -- The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today approved an energy purchase agreement and land lease for a 1.4-megawatt biogas plant to be built near Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport.

The board, acting as directors for the Sonoma County Water Agency, approved today was a power purchase agreement and a land lease for the renewable-energy facility to be built over nine months at the Airport/Larkfield/Wikiup Sanitation Zone’s wastewater treatment plant located at 2025 Aviation Blvd. north of Santa Rosa.

Construction is set to start in September. The plant is set to start producing energy in spring 2012.

OHR Biostar LLC would construct the facility over nine months then operate it. Construction would employ 94 and ongoing operations, 36, according to the water agency.

As part of the county's "Farms to Fuel" program, a fuel cell will convert part of the natural gas produced bacterial digestion of chicken manure -- equivalent to what comes from 2 million birds a year -- and food waste into electricity. The rest of the biogas would be sold to PG&E.

The electricity from this fuel cell will provide about 25 percent of the water agency’s average power consumption for moving drinking water around the county as well as generate wastewater treatment plant operational savings in using recycled water for the bacterial digestion process.

The power purchase agreement and lease agreement allows OHR Biostar, LLC, to apply for tax exempt private activity bonds for solid-waste recycling facilities. Additional funding would come from $7.8 million U.S. Treasury renewable energy grants and $4.3 million Pacific Gas and Electric renewable energy incentives.

County government wouldn't be funding the capital project, other than providing staff time, according to the water agency.

OHR Biostar will pay the water agency $120,000 in annual lease payments for the use of the land.

"Projects such as the Farms to Fuel initiative benefits a broad sector of our community," said water agency Director Mike McGuire. "Jobs are created, clean energy is produced and an agricultural waste stream is brought to beneficial use. I appreciate all of the work that has gone into this project, particularly the valuable feedback which was implemented due to the neighborhood’s input."

Water Agency Director Valerie Brown, who had championed the project from the beginning, stated “We are thrilled that this project is moving forward. Generating clean energy while providing benefit for local agriculture is a win-win for us all.”

OHR BioStar is a joint venture of Kansas City-based BioStar Systems, LLC, a producer of renewable energy and organic fertilizer, and Otto H. Rosentreter Co., a renewable-energy and power-development company.

For details on the project, visit the county's Farms to Fuel website page.

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