Each week the McNeil wood-fired generation plant in Burlington produces over 100 tons of wood ash. Burlington Electric, which runs the plant, didn't know what to do with the ash. But two years ago it found new life, helping to grow life.
"That's really what McNeil has been about, really keeping the product local, it's a green plant, its considered co2 neutral," says Mary Sullivan of the Burlington Electric Department.
Wood ash makes an excellent fertilizer, but BED didn't know how to mass market it. A company called Resource Management Incorporated is now working with BED, to connect it with farmers who could make use of the ash in their fields.
"We are charged with finding a viable home for it, someplace where it's needed. It's not just a dumping situation where ‘oh this guy wants it and is willing to pay for it, we'll bring it to him.' We actually document the soil, and where it's going is actually in need of wood ash," says Charles Russell of resource Management Inc.
Each week RMI loads up trucks with the ash from the plant and hauls it to any one of 250 farms that have started using it as a substitute for chemicals.
"It's a lot better buy than any chemical fertilizer that you would buy," says Guy Palardy, an Alburgh farmer who uses the wood ash.
One of the most concentrated elements in wood ash is potash. It sells for about $800 dollars a ton. An equivalent amount of the nutrient in wood ash costs only $400 dollars a ton.
"You know it's the elements from the growth of wood so it supported the growth of a tree. It's definitely going to be more complete than any chemical fertilizer," says Palardy.
Farmers spread the ash once a year and use about two tons per acre. That's more fertilizer than normal, but still a major cost savings. McNeil is not the only wood-fired plant that offers its ash to farmers. RMI works with several plants all across New England, each of which produces about 100 tons of ash a week.