Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Good enough on paper to count on in reality?

I just finished the latest version of the Farm Power pro forma, an enormous set of spreadsheets that peers far into the future and concludes that anaerobic digesters can actually make a profit in the long run. Compared to May, when the first version of the pro forma was completed, we have much more real data and far fewer estimates. However, our digester remains a paper project; in order to make the jump to reality, we need something more than elegant spreadsheets.

We found some of what we were lacking last week at the EPA AgSTAR conference, the country's only manure digester convention. This year people from across the industry gathered in Sacramento, giving the conference an unfortunate focus on California's dysfunctional utilities and environmental laws. The speakers list was not especially strong and some of the vendors brought more hope than actual experience. By the end of the first day, though, we had met the designer of our first-choice digester, the likely supplier of our engine-generator sets, and the owner of the engineering company that will build the whole project. We were finally able to take a few specific questions to the source and--more importantly--get a feeling for what it would be like to work with these suppliers.

We're getting a good feeling. These people are experienced, honest, and dedicated to the success of digester projects. Better than ever before, we can stand in front of farmers, investors, community members, regulators, and other stakeholders to assure them that Farm Power's team will make sure digester projects function as advertised or get back on track when they don't. That confidence isn't something we can express in numbers, but it's absolutely invaluable to making Farm Power a reality.

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