Cedar Grove Composting drops plan to grow

EVERETT — Cedar Grove Composting announced Thursday it will shelve the its proposal to build a $20 million anaerobic digester project it planned in Everett, following the ruling that a stringent environmental study was required.

Instead, the company says it will pursue smaller digester projects, and “has begun discussions with large institutions in the area that generate organic waste about placing small scale digesters on or near their sites,” according to a statement from the company. None of the institutions was named.

The city of Everett and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency decided on Wednesday that Cedar Grove needed to complete a full environmental study to move forward on the digester project. The anaerobic digester would have converted food and yard waste into enough electricity for 400 homes or fuel for 1,000 vehicles a year, according to the company.

“Building renewable energy projects in the Puget Sound is challenging,” Cedar Grove CEO Steve Banchero said in the statement. “With the added costs in time and money required for an (environmental impact statement), the project is no longer financially feasible.” He said the company already has spent $2.5 million to prepare permits for the plan.

Cedar Grove collects yard and food waste from hauling companies and restaurants in Snohomish and King counties, grinds it, cures it and sells the compost.

Cedar Grove has been blamed for strong, unpleasant odors the past few years in neighborhoods near its Smith Island plant. The Clean Air Agency has fined the company for odors emanating from its Smith Island plant and its operation at Maple Valley in King County.

Harris said the discussions regarding smaller digesters started a couple of years ago, but there are no definite plans to build at this point.

He said the digesters are German technology and each one could generate 75 to 100 kilowatts of energy, enough for about 60 to 80 homes.

“You’d put it near a major generator of food waste and organic waste,” and it could provide energy for a campus of buildings, for example, he said.

The methane from the waste could be used directly to heat water or could be converted to compressed natural gas, Harris said.

“These are small enough so they would have virtually no environmental impact,” he said.

Allan Giffen, city of Everett planning director, said whether such a digester would require a permit would depend on its size, type and location.

Laurie Halvorson, compliance officer for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, took a similar view.

“The general answer would be yes, they would likely require air permits but it completely depends on the details of the proposals,” she said.

Now that the larger digester project at Smith Island has been scrapped, the company has not made any decisions about possible future expansion of its plant there, Harris said.

In the decision on Wednesday, the city of Everett and Clean Air agency sent out a letter explaining that the digester project, which would have required paving 170,000 square feet on the island in addition to the digester itself, could have a significant effect on the environment.

The letter noted that Cedar Grove had earlier expressed interest in more than tripling its capacity at the site, to produce 620,000 tons of finished compost per year. The company later scaled back its goals and said it was not planning such a large increase at this time.

Still, the city and the agency determined that the digester plan was “part of a probable full build-out of the site” and that the potential effects should all be analyzed at once.

The project drew significant opposition, including from Marysville and the Tulalip Tribes, who said if the plant were to expand it could add to odor problems and affect water quality and fisheries.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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