USDA supports Western Plains Energy biogas project

By USDA | April 09, 2012

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on April 9 the USDA approval of a $5 million payment to Western Plains Energy LLC to support the construction of a biogas anaerobic digester in Oakley, Kan. The completed project will utilize waste energy resources from a local cattle feedlot to replace almost 90 percent of the fossil fuels currently used by Western Plains Energy. The funding of this project is expected to create 15 full-time positions and almost 100 additional construction opportunities.

"For the first time in 13 years, imported oil accounts for less than 50 percent of the oil consumed in America. That is because we are producing more domestically, using more alternative fuels, and using less energy through energy efficiency efforts," said Vilsack. "Projects such as this are a key part of the Obama Administration's all-of-the-above approach to American energy that is supporting the development and usage of renewable energy, revitalizing rural economies and creating an America built to last."

Western Plains Energy expects to complete construction of the biogas digester in August. It is scheduled to become fully operational in 2013. The digester is expected to produce enough biogas to replace 89 percent of the fossil fuel that Western Plains currently uses to provide process heat at its Oakley ethanol plant, which produces 50 million gallons of ethanol annually.

Animal waste from a local feedlot will be the primary feedstock that Western Plains will use for the digester. It also will use grain dust as well as waste from a variety of industrial food and municipal facilities. Western Plains expects to be able to produce more than 100 million Btu of renewable energy per hour daily.

Today's announcement was made under USDA Rural Development's Repowering Assistance Program. This program was authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill. It allows USDA to make payments to eligible biorefineries to encourage the use of renewable biomass as a replacement fuel source for fossil fuels used to provide process heat or power in the operation of these eligible biorefineries. Biorefineries that were in existence when the bill was enacted, June 18, 2008, are eligible to apply. For more information, visit

Support for renewable energy projects such as these is an example of the many ways USDA is helping revitalize rural economies. This support for these innovative technologies creates opportunities for growth and prosperity, helps identify new markets for agricultural producers, and better utilizes our nation's natural resources. For more information on USDA energy efforts, click here.

USDA, through its rural development mission area, administers and manages more than 40 housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of employees in the nation's capital and state and local offices. Rural development has an active portfolio of more than $165 billion in affordable loans and loan guarantees. These loans and loan guarantees are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.

(Note: Ethanol Producer Magazine wrote about this project late last year. To view the article click here.)