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The morning of July 10 was gray and gloomy at the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority’s (MWRA) Deer Island wastewater treatment plant, but a giant American flag, affixed to an anaerobic digester (AD) pod rising out of the mist, seemed to aptly mark the proceedings.

State officials and industry leaders had gathered to discuss a commercial food waste disposal ban proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia also announced that the Commonwealth will award $4 million in grants and low interest loans to develop AD projects in preparation for when the 2014 ban kicks in.

Photo of MWRA's Deer Island wastewater treatment plant with DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia discusses discussing new funding for AD projects

At MWRA’s Deer Island wastewater treatment plant, DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia discusses new funding for AD projects

Commissioner Sylvia talked about the symbolic nature of the ban and new funding. The AD initiative is the latest component of the Patrick Administration’s focus on clean energy and environmental stewardship. Previously, this emphasis has been exemplified by the combination of the state’s energy and environmental agencies under one cabinet secretary and establishment of the Clean Energy Results Program (CERP), a collaboration between DOER and MassDEP that dovetails environmental guidance with clean energy projects. MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell said the ban and funding initiatives are part of the “next chapter of the clean energy revolution.”

Food and organic wastes currently account for 20-25 percent of the waste stream to landfills and incinerators. The commercial food waste ban would require institutions producing one or more tons of organic waste per week to donate or re-purpose reusable foods and send the rest to an AD, composting, or animal feed facility. AD is a process in which microbes convert organic waste to biogas that can be used to produce heat and electricity. The technology eliminates methane emissions, and organic fertilizer is often produced from the “digestate” left over at the end of the process.

The $4 million of financial support for AD comes from revenues from Alternative Compliance Payments (ACPs) by retail electricity suppliers. Suppliers who do not obtain the percentage of their electricity from renewable sources that is required under the state’s yearly Renewable Portfolio Standard pay ACPs instead. Of the $4 million for AD, officials will distribute $3 million in the form of low interest loans through MassDEP’s Recycling Loan Fund. The loans will be available to private companies to build AD facilities. The state will award $1 million in grants to public entities through MassDEP’s Sustainable Materials Recovery Grant Program.

DOER and MassDEP have awarded the first grant to the MWRA Deer Island plant. The money will fund a pilot project introducing food waste into one of the sewage sludge chambers. The project seeks to determine the impacts of food and sewage co-digestion on AD operations.

Information on a number of additional funding programs available to public and private entities for AD projects is available on the CERP website.

Representatives from the private sector who attended the event at Deer Island applauded the proposed ban and new funding opportunities. Bill Jorgenson of AGreen Energy, LLC, a five-farm partnership that developed and operates the Jordan Farms digester in Rutland, Massachusetts, said that one of the biggest challenges for AD projects is raising money. He explained that grants provide credibility for AD projects when it comes to approaching the bank. Tony Callendrello, CEO of NEO Energy, a renewable energy development company, said that the support of the Patrick Administration and Massachusetts Legislature for AD has helped create much needed certainty for investors.

Supporting AD projects and providing increased certainty for AD investment is just one more step that Massachusetts is taking to distinguish itself as a national clean energy leader.

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Ginny is working as a summer intern for the Green Communities Division in DOER. She recently graduated from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where she majored in environmental studies with a policy concentration. In the fall, Ginny will be entering the Master in Urban Planning program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Ginny is originally from Concord, MA. She ran track in college, and running continues to be one of her favorite pastimes.

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