Rockingham CAP Article: Get Educated on Poultry Power

By Kim Sandum

WHEN IT COMES to converting the Shenandoah Valley’s abundant poultry manure into an energy resource, is bigger the best option or could small-scale solutions do a good job? That’s the question confronting the region’s poultry growers and local communities, as well as a new state group meeting in Harrisonburg on Monday.

On the big side, the Shenandoah Valley Poultry Litter to Energy Watershed & Air Advisory Group was launched in February under the direction of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Conservation and Recreation. In the announcement, the agencies said the group is “evaluating the concept of a large scale poultry litter-energy project as a means to help us meet Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay” water quality requirements, with “the additional benefits of helping meet the Commonwealth’s renewable energy goals.”

That got the attention of Page County Supervisor J.D. Cave and area activists, who last year rebuffed Fibrowatt LLC’s efforts to locate a major litter-to-energy power station in the county. At the advisory committee’s first meeting last month in Charlottesville, Cave and Page residents repeated their objections to the air impacts and 300-foot smoke stack from such a power plant, as well as the hundreds of trucks loaded with manure converging on a single site every day.

So how else could we solve the Shenandoah Valley’s poultry manure management problem? And which solution might provide the best economic return to poultry growers, either in the price paid for poultry litter or through byproducts from energy generation?

On the small side, conservation groups last month urged the advisory group to expand its study to include smaller scale options that use promising new technologies like on-farm gasification, pyrolysis or anaerobic digestion of poultry litter to create energy. The groups called for the state study to be expanded to include multiple systems, at multiple scales, both centralized and distributed across the region.

The conservation groups also want the advisory group to measure more than just reduction of nutrient loads on water quality or of a power station’s impacts on air quality. They also asked that the study measure “all environmental impacts to the region” and develop a cost-benefit analysis of impacts to the community and local poultry producers.

Some developers of smaller manure-to-energy systems say they could start operating in the Shenandoah Valley in the coming year with fewer effects than a single major power station. BioChar Soils Systems, which uses gasification; BioMass Heating Solutions LTD, combustion; BioEnergy Planet Inc., a pyrolysis system based on a Virginia Tech test project in Rockingham; and Cumberland/Pepco Energy Services, anaerobic digestion, are some of the emerging companies and technologies.

All manure to energy systems offer at least one source of revenue for poultry growers, the purchase of poultry litter to start the process. The large and small scale options differ, however, in several ways: grower contract requirements, from none to a 10 year commitment; the price paid for the litter, from $5 to $15 a ton or more; the grower’s investment, from none to $100,000 or more; and who owns the power generated, electricity, bio-gas or bio-oil, and any other saleable byproducts, such as fertilizer.

This is an enormously complicated issue that affects the farm economy and local communities. The advisory group  next meets at 1 p.m. on Monday at the DEQ office in Harrisonburg. The meeting is open.

Community Alliance For Preservation supports options that help poultry farmers increase income and reduce nutrient loads on waterways and that have low impacts on natural resources and local communities. Only by looking at all scales and cumulative effects can the advisory group assure Valley residents that we won’t be trading a water quality problem for other problems.

Kim Sandum, of Harrisonburg, is executive director of Community Alliance for Preservation.

Reprinted from the Harrisonburg Daily News Record, March 26, 2011