MaryBeth Matzek: Gundersen turning waste into energy

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

You normally wouldn’t associate a health system with farms or producing energy, but that’s exactly what Gundersen Health System in La Crosse is doing.

Earlier this fall, the health system opened a $14 million biodigester in Middleton. The GL Dairy Biogas Project receives manure from more than 2,000 cows from three local dairies. The manure is used to create methane and produce electricity. Gundersen then sells the electricity to Madison Gas and Electric Co., which uses it to power about 2,500 homes and reduce fossil fuel carbon dioxide by 11,000 metric tons per year.

The biodigester, which is Gundersen’s second – it has a smaller one in Sun Prairie – is run by Envision, the health system’s sustainability initiative. “Hospitals consume a lot of energy from dirty sources like coal and since 2008 when we did an energy audit, we’ve been working to reduce our energy consumption and work on finding ways to use more renewable energy,” says Jeff Rich, executive director of Envision.

In addition to producing cleaner energy, Rich says the digesters prevent more than 3,700 pounds of phosphorus runoff to the water ways in Dane County every year.

The biodigesters are just one part of Gundersen’s energy-producing initiative: it also has a project in place that uses waste biogas created from a La Crosse County landfill and turns it into electricity and heat for some of its healthcare campuses; two wind turbine sites that produce 13 million kilowatts a year; a biomass boiler on the main Gundersen campus; and a large solar photovoltaic system.

Read the full column