Consumer Support For Renewable Energy Systems: A Case Study Of Community Biodigesters In Vermont
From the steady rise in dairy farm closures to concerns over algae blooms in Lake Champlain, Vermont’s dairy industry is facing a multitude of challenges. While many potential solutions have been proposed, this study focuses specifically on community anaerobic digester systems (CADS) to aid in manure management, help to mitigate runoff, produce renew energy, and even provide an alternative revenue source to participating farms. CADS technology converts the gas emissions from manure and other organic substances into biogas through a process called anaerobic digestion. Unlike traditional on-farm biodigesters, which are often only financially viable for the largest dairy farms, CADS are able to accept both manure from multiple dairy farms and food waste from the surrounding community. In Vermont, consumers can purchase biogas-produced electricity from biodigesters in the state for an additional cost through Green Mountain Power’s Cow Power program. However, little research has been conducted regarding the success of CADS-produced electricity on the consumer market.
This thesis focuses on two surveys conducted in Randolph, Vermont and Addison County exploring attitudes of local biodigesters in relation to other renewable energy sources available to consumers, as well as issues related to composting and recycling. The objective of this study is to provide policy makers and biodigester operators a better understanding of community attitudes of biodigesters compared to other renewable energy systems, as well as willingness to participate in paid services that could support the operation of the biodigesters. In 2017, a survey was distributed to households in Randolph, the location of the Vermont Technical College CADS, through the local newspaper. A second survey was also conducted in 2019, distributed via newspaper to residents in Addison County, a dairy county home to four operational biodigesters.
Results from the 2017 survey suggest that there is generally a low willingness to pay for the Cow Power program and food waste removal services that support biodigesters, although targeted educational approaches focusing on how CADS benefit the community may improve attitudes towards them. The 2019 survey shows similar levels of willingness to participate and pay, although attitudes of biodigesters and public support for anaerobic digester technology were considerably higher. Through educational outreach efforts, community acceptance of biodigesters can be improved to avoid cancellation of projects due to lack of community support.