ANNAPOLIS Burning poultry litter for fuel in a state prison is feasible, according to a study released last week, a conclusion that could put Maryland one step closer to combating its chicken manure problem.
The proposal to refit the Eastern Correctional Institution’s power plant to burn chicken waste instead of wood chips is possible from an engineering and technology standpoint, said James W. Peck, director and chief executive officer of Maryland Environmental Service. Maryland Environmental Service is a state agency that runs the power plant that provides heat and electricity to the Somerset County prison.
“Chicken litter offers the environmental advantage of disposing of a higher level of waste. It’s environmentally sound and economical,” Peck has said.
The state began researching alternate ways to produce power after a 1997 outbreak of the fish-killing micro- organism Pfiesteria piscicida. Farmers often spread chicken waste on their land as fertilizer, a practice blamed for contributing to the outbreak in the Chesapeake Bay and other waters.
More than 400,000 tons of chicken waste are produced every year in Maryland, according to state officials. Delaware produces another 300,000. The plant would burn 60,000 to 80,000 tons of waste a year, Peck said.
Repairing and refitting the old system to burn either chicken manure pellets or wood chips will cost about $7 million, Peck said.
Over 20 years, he said, the new system could save the state about $2 million to $6 million because it would be more efficient and would no longer need to burn the specially made wood chips it uses now.
The present facility has never produced power to capacity because of design problems.
“The costs appear to be less than continuing to burn wood chips alone,” Peck said.
Federal funding may be available for the project, he said, and his agency will try to get state funding for the 2001 fiscal year.
Refitting and repairing the plant would begin as soon as funding is available and would take about eight to 10 months, he said.
Peck said the plant could be a precursor to other projects.
“As there become more regulatory pressures and more environmental pressures to do something different with chicken manure, we’ll see some of these new technologies used more to find beneficial uses for chicken manure,” Peck said.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said it supports efforts to find solutions to Maryland’s chicken-waste disposal problem. But other environmental groups have expressed concern that burning the waste could negatively impact air and water quality.
Those problems are unlikely, Peck said. The plant would be “converted in a way to ensure that all emissions will meet state and federal standards and not cause any air quality problems,” he said.
Maryland members of Congress have backed efforts to use poultry manure as an energy source.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore, has supported a study of the animal waste as fuel, an idea that has been criticized as wasteful by a taxpayer watchdog group. U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, plans to introduce legislation that would give certain tax credits to other environmentally friendly means of producing electricity.
But Don Vandrey, spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said it is too early to say if the state will back the project.
“The governor is always going to be interested in looking at any alternatives to land spreading,” Vandrey said. “It’s premature to say we’re going to support it.”
The Maryland Environmental Service based its proposal on a model developed by the British company, Fibrowatt, which built several chicken waste-burning plants in England. Peck said the company has also expressed an interest in constructing a plant in the Delmarva region.
The environmental agency is not alone in its quest to burn chicken waste as fuel. Conectiv, a Delaware-based company, is also considering converting its oil-fired plant in Vienna, Md., to burn the waste.
In order to convert the system, the corrections department would be required to apply for a permit to modify the power plant’s equipment, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.