SOUTHINGTON - Local leaders joined U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy on a tour of Quantum Biopower’s food waste to energy plant on DePaolo Drive and showed Murphy the “ripe” opportunities the energy source has to offer.
Town Manager Garry Brumback, Town Council Chair Mike Riccio and Economic Development Director Lou Perillo and Murphy met with Brian Paganini, vice president and managing director of Quantum Biopower, and Ron Wuennemann, vice president and CFO of their parent company, Supreme Industries, as they explained how the plant operated and what its energy production potential could be.
The guests were treated to a tour of the facility, during which they were able to see and smell the processes in action. Fortunately, the odors were well-contained to a room in which bins of rotting food were emptied into a pit where it was ground up and sent to giant vats where methane gas could be harvested. The food, after a law passed in 2014, comes from commercial entities within 20 miles of the plant that generate more than two tons of food waste yearly. DEEP has been performing outreach to make sure that these entities are compliant.
“It smells like money,” Perillo joked.
Paganini explained the process to get the plant started took a long time.
“We submitted our initial application with the (state) Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in December 2013 and we have been in operation for four to five months now,” said Paganini. “The Supreme Group started 35 years ago as a small landscaping group and now employs close to 300 people. We have always been creative in thinking of ways to manage waste streams. Thirty years ago trees we cut down would end up in landfills and now we grind them up and re-sell them to Home Depot as mulch. Quantum Biopower uses food waste to create energy through the method of anaerobic digestion. This is the most technologically advanced digester plant in the U.S. and Connecticut is by far leading the way in renewable energy. This is a proven technology in Europe. Germany has 6,500 digesters and there are about 2,000 in the U.S. We use 15 percent of the power and the rest we will be selling to Southington through the virtual net metering program at a 20 to 30 percent reduced rate for the next 20 years.”
Paganini said that the governor and DEEP had said that their goal was to see a 60 percent reduction in the waste stream by 2024 and that doing so would not be possible without turning food waste into energy.
“If we took all the food waste in Connecticut we would be able to produce enough energy to power 140,000 households at worst,” he said. “We also produce about 30,000 gallons a day of liquid which contains the same composition as the solid fertilizers but which we can’t use because it is legally considered an industrial discharge. We would like to be able to sell this liquid and any help that we could get from the state or federal government would be great.”
Wuennemann has said the town has been very supportive.
“We would never have been able to pull off what we did without them,” he said. “I can think of a half-dozen projects like this that never got off the ground due to either lack of support or lack of vision.”
“Very few people are willing to hang in there as long as you have throughout the permitting process,” said Brumback. “This is brilliant and the fact that it is here in Southington is incredible.”
Ricco said four years ago a goal was set to be the greenest town in the nation.
“We are achieving that goal with companies like this and by putting solar panels on all of our schools,” he said.
When Murphy asked Wuennemann and Paganini what the government could do to support them, Paganini said that investment tax credits should be extended to include digester plants.
“We need to get out of the game of picking winners and losers,” he said. “Solar and wind receive a tax credit and digesters don’t, which puts us at a disadvantage.”
“This is awesome,” Murphy said upon the conclusion of the tour. “This is the future of energy production. The federal and state governments both need to understand this; this is a win-win in the sense that it cleans up the environment and creates jobs. Why wouldn’t you want more of this?”
Murphy said that he believes that there could be bipartisan support for digesters in the legislature.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.