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Regional Business Manager, Microgy
Green Collar Employee, Amery, Wisconsin
Standing knee-deep in manure may not be anyone’s idea of a dream job. But where most people see—and smell—waste, Dan Kegley, 42, sees a career opportunity.
Kegley was working as an electrical contractor in 2003 when Microgy approached him to put together construction bids for the first biogas facilities in Wisconsin. The facilities, typically sited on dairy farms, help turn manure and other agricultural waste into a clean energy source. Although he had never been involved with the renewable energy industry, or with farms for that matter, the work resonated with Kegley.
“It was like a fish to water,” said Kegley. “I just started slopping around in the manure, and the smell didn’t bother me a bit. It must have been destiny.”
In 2004, Microgy hired Kegley full-time to manage its four digester facilities throughout the region. His technical experience with electrical systems combined with the operations and personnel management skills gained from 20 years in the Air Force made Kegley a natural.
“I had been on the front end of putting electrical systems in place,” Kegley said, “and I really see my job at Microgy as one step forward in being able to create that energy and provide a cleaner system that lessens our carbon footprint and helps reduce global warming.”
At an average farm, 7 million to 15 million gallons of manure sits in lagoons, releasing methane and sulfur compounds into the atmosphere. Microgy’s system pumps the manure from the farm’s collection pit into a digester, a large vessel where micro-organisms break down the manure and release what are called sour biogases, which include methane, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide.
The system runs those gases through a scrubber that removes the sulfur compounds, which are then transformed from an airborne pollutant into a liquid nutrient that the farmer can use as fertilizer. The farmer sells the remaining biogas to a local electrical cooperative, which uses the biogas to power a generator that provides electricity to homes, farms, and businesses.
In addition to providing clean, sustainable energy to the region, the process minimizes harmful run-off that threatens local water quality and reduces the noxious odors that seep into nearby communities.
Keeping the facilities running is not an easy job. Kegley starts his day at 7 a.m., communicating with plant managers and operations coordinators to ensure that the digesters are running safely and under budget. He routinely travels to check plants in five states.
Air Force recycling and energy conservation programs initially raised Kegley’s environmental awareness, but he said his time at Microgy “has really changed the way my family thinks about things.” Kegley, and his wife, Dawn, for example, have started a garden to grow their own produce. “We thought that would be more environmentally friendly, and cut down on packaging waste and the gas to go to the store.”