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TerraPass project spotlight: the Haubenschild dairy farm

haubenschild.jpgThe Wall Street Journal ran a nice piece (subscribers only) on one of the projects TerraPass funds, the Haubenschild dairy farm in Princeton, MN. I’ve met with Dennis Haubenschild, and he’s as passionate as can be about conservation and renewable energy. His dedication is particularly impressive considering that running a family-owned farm takes no small amount of effort and energy.

Below is a lengthy excerpt of the WSJ article, but first two points of clarification on issues that might otherwise be confusing:

  1. When the article says that Dennis had been “waiting 20 years” to sell his credits, that does not mean either that his methane digester has been in operation for 20 years or that the credits are old. Rather, it just means that Dennis has been tinkering in one way or another with forms of renewable energy for 20 years. His early experiments were with solar energy, because he couldn’t secure financing for the methane digester he wanted to build. More recently, carbon offsets have made the methane digester feasible.
  2. The claim that there are “no restrictions” on how farmers use the funds from offsets could be misinterpreted as meaning that farmers aren’t actually required to reduce any emissions. This would be incorrect. To generate an offset, the farmer first has to create a real reduction in CO2 emissions. Once the offset is created, the farmer can sell it, and the proceeds are his revenue to keep. Saying that there are “no restrictions” on the proceeds is like saying that there are no restrictions on what the farmer does with the proceeds from selling milk. It’s true, but the farmer does actually have to produce the milk.

OK, hopefully that’s clear. Here’s a portion of the article:

Dennis Haubenschild, a longtime environmentally conscious farmer, wants his business to be carbon neutral or sustainable. However, he found it difficult to gain investors’ interest in purchasing his farm’s carbon credits, especially because it is too small to sell them on the Chicago Climate Exchange, or CCX. Companies and municipalities join the CCX and voluntarily agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Members who reduce emissions by more than 1% each year can sell surplus carbon credits on the exchange, or bank them.

Mr. Haubenschild says his Princeton, Minn., dairy farm was the first in the Midwest to create electricity from cow manure, and that he hires an auditor each year to verify his carbon credits. An environmentalist since his college days in the 1970s, Mr. Haubenschild had been waiting 20 years to partner with a company that would purchase his credits or act as an intermediary between the farm and outside investors. Then came TerraPass.

Mr. Haubenschild teamed up with TerraPass, a for-profit company that sells carbon offsets to consumers, three years ago. TerraPass purchases the 90-100 tons of carbon credits a week that Haubenschild Dairy Farm produces, and sells them to individuals.

Contracts are trading at around $4 per metric ton of carbon dioxide on the CCX. That adds up to roughly $19,750 per year in offset income for Mr.Haubenschild.

“I’ve been trying to be able to sell carbon credits since the Chicago Climate Exchange started,” he said, “and it took a company like that to make it happen. It would take four-to-five dairies, probably six dairies, my size to have a seat on the exchange.”

As more for-profit companies get into the carbon-offset market, small U.S. farms are benefiting from sales of carbon credits, as well. The concept works this way: small farms sell carbon credits to companies, which resell the credits to consumers and businesses. Part of that money goes toward renewable energy projects, and part of it becomes profit. There are generally no restrictions on how farms use the funds, though some reinvest them in their biomass projects.

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