An anaerobic digester plant that would covert animal waste into a usable energy source, among other things, is being planned for south of Yuma.

The planned location is on County Road 34, approximately one mile east of Highway 59.

Sheldon Kye Energy and Harvest Operating LLC are teaming up to develop the digester. Both companies are headquartered in the metro Denver area. Brian Johnson is heading up the project for Sheldon Kye Energy, and Alan Nackerud is the Harvest Operating representative.

The companies have been visiting with the Yuma County Economic Development Corporation and the Yuma County Board of Commissioners for more than year. The project is closer to becoming a reality, with the developers hoping to break ground in 2018, ideally before summer, according to Johnson. He said construction could take nine to 15 months.

“YCEDC is excited for the opportunity to work with Sheldon Kye Energy to bring our communities innovations in agriculture, job opportunities, and a new energy source,” YCEDC Director Maggie Metzler said in an email. “We look forward to further dialogue to determine the fit for Yuma County, its residents and how best to move our economy forward with this partnership.”

The project is set at $20 million, though Johnson said the hope is it will be a little less than that. Johnson said, when operational, the facility would employ approximately six full-time workers, with a total of 10-12 employees including part-time.

Anaerobic digestion is the “natural breakdown of organic matter into carbon dioxide, methane and water,” utilizing two groups of microorganisms, bacteria and archaea. It is called anaerobic because the microorganisms are intolerant to oxygen.

“We’re wanting to make a useful product out of (animal waste),” Johnson said.

The process removes pathogens and hydrogen sulphide, as well as ammonia, from animal waste, and creates basic usable products. One is bio gas. The developers want to tie-in to a nearby interstate pipeline and put the renewable natural gas into the grid. Johnson said carbon dioxide also can be captured during the process, and it can be sold for industrial use.

However, those living close to the proposed location have concerns about it being located so close to their homes.

Kenny Rogers said it would be about one-half mile from his house, and even closer to his in-law’s home located to the east.

“I’m in favor of the project, just not the location,” Rogers said, adding he has asked the developers if they have looked for locations more isolated from rural homes.

Local residents have pointed to the problems experienced at the Heartland Biogas’ $115 million anerobic digester in Weld County. The smell from that facility was so offensive that it helped contribute to the Weld County Commissioners suspending the facility’s permits. (There were other issues as well, leading to the commissioners’ decision.) That resulted in the facility being shut down one year ago, and still is not in operation.

However, the Heartland Biogas digester also was using municipal food waste, such as grease, eggs and bacon. Johnson said the Yuma facility will be constructed differently.

Johnson said the digester planned for here would use nothing but animal waste, and all of it will be enclosed. The plant’s location will sit on 100 acres, with the facility itself utilizing 30-35 acres. He said there are plans to put up trees and berms, and one of the two lagoons would be covered. The liquid that ends up in the final lagoon could be applied to agricultural fields as it will be high in nutrients.

“That’s why we’re just sticking to the animal waste,” Johnson said. “We’re just going to be an extension of the dairies, feedlots and hog farms. We will take a lot of that waste.”

Rogers said he also has concerns about the truck traffic, and wonders what it could do to nearby home values.

Johnson and Nackerud have been in Yuma County several times over the past year, including spending time visiting with neighbors recently. Johnson said he understands the objections, but said he is confident in their concept and that smell will not be a problem.

“We’re trying to be as sympathetic to the local environment as possible,” he said. “…We know there are objections, but we’re trying to alleviate concerns by making it as aesthetically as possible, and reducing the smell by keeping it all enclosed.”

Johnson said the facility will be similar to the City of Yuma’s wastewater treatment plant one mile east of town, and there are not complaints about smells from that. He said the digester will be even more neighbor-friendly as its agitation tanks will be enclosed.

He said he is aware there will have to be road improvements, which he said will be a benefit to everyone living in the area, as will the upgrade to the local electrical grid.

Air and construction permits have been lodged with the state. Johnson said the process is getting close to final engineering. The developers also will have to go through the local permit process with Yuma County, including applying for an Exemption from Definition of Subdivision Permit, as well as a Major Land Use Development Permit. The process includes contacting nearby neighbors, as well as public hearings before ever getting to final approval — first by the Yuma County Planning Commission, and then by the Yuma County Board of Commissioners.