City Council Votes to Shut Down Lowell Biodigester

In a unanimous vote last night, city council directed city staff to take legal action to shut down the Lowell biodigester operating on Chatham Street.

Although initiated through a public-private partnership between the city and Sustainable Partners LLC, the biodigester is now wholly owned by the private firm Lowell Energy AD. The facility is under contract with the city to sell energy to Lowell Light & Power.

The biodgester uses a variety of waste products to create methane gas which is converted to energy. These products include manure, manufacturing by-products from the Litehouse factory in the city and oil and grease from area restaurants.

The facility was approved unanimously by both the city council and the Lowell Light & Power board when initially proposed. However, the plant has become controversial during the past year as the type of waste products used were adjusted, creating a foul odor in the area. Residents living near the plant have complained of being unable to open windows this summer or go outside without feeling physically sick from the smell.

Lowell Energy AD did make significant upgrades to the biodigester last month. Those included closing vents, installing a carbon filter and capping off a holding tank for the waste. While those changes did seem to remove much of the odor, they were not 100 percent effective in eliminating all smells. Since November 5th, the biodigester has been fined a total of $1,200 for emitting odor on four occasions.

At last night’s city council meeting, representatives from Webster Environmental spoke on behalf of Lowell Energy AD to explain their actions to contain any smell within the facility. However, it was not enough to convince city council members to give them more time to correct the problem.

It appears a court order will be needed to shut down the Lowell biodigester, and Lowell’s First Look will continue to monitor this situation and report new developments as they become available.

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