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Historically, the U.S. dairy industry has been one of the most energy-intensive forms of agriculture. Dairies operate every hour of every day. Milk harvesting and cooling, equipment sterilization, lighting, and ventilation all require energy expenditures. Milk cooling alone accounts for a quarter of the dairy production energy budget. This process is necessary to ensure there is a low bacteria count in milk, which is produced by a cow at about 99 degrees and hauled away at a few degrees above freezing to be sold.
The past few years have seen a spate of innovative, sustainable initiatives from the dairy industry. A Pennsylvania dairy invested in wind energy, an Indiana dairy invested in anaerobic digestion to convert agricultural waste to natural gas, and recently, Colorado’s dairy industry invested in energy efficiency with support from the Energy Department’s State Energy Program (SEP).
In 2014, the Colorado Energy Office invested $240,000 of SEP funds to help reduce the dairy industry’s electricity demand. Through the Colorado Dairy and Irrigation Efficiency Pilot, eight dairies received a free energy audit and energy-saving recommendations. If the farms followed the recommendations, the Energy Department covered 75 percent of the retrofitting costs—up to $25,000 for each farm. The free audits resulted in all eight dairies implementing recommended improvements, which were estimated to save nearly 3 million British thermal units (Btu) and 742,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
Cottonwood Dairy, a 32-year-old facility in Fort Lupton, Colorado, saved more than 25 percent in monthly electricity costs largely due to the pilot. The dairy installed a plate cooler, which greatly enhanced the energy efficiency of its milk cooling process. Water heating, space heating and lighting upgrades were also made at the facility.
In March, the Colorado Dairy and Irrigation Efficiency Pilot expanded statewide. The Colorado Energy Office expects the initiative to save 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity over three years. In this new phase, the U.S. Department of Agriculture helps dairies with the cost of recommended retrofits.
The dairy industry joins a group of sectors in Colorado, including wastewater treatment and sustainable transportation, that have worked with the Energy Department’s State Energy Program to develop initiatives for advancing clean energy and energy efficiency. The success of Colorado dairy farms to slash their energy use provides a replicable example for other dairy farms across the U.S.