ANNAPOLIS – Environmentalists and lawmakers are divided on the details of a proposal to use poultry manure to generate electricity, an idea that was withdrawn during the 2001 General Assembly.
A renewable energy standards bill sponsored by House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, would increase the requirement that electric companies generate some power from “green” sources from 1 percent to 7.5 percent by 2014. It also would offer credits to utilities for renewable energy production.
The legislation includes a provision geared to make use of the Eastern Shore’s abundant resource, chicken droppings, with an eye toward preserving the Chesapeake Bay’s fragile ecosystem and assisting farmers in meeting nutrient management regulations.
While everyone agrees the provision is needed, opinions are split on whether gasification – a process in which manure decomposes into energy-producing gases – or incineration is the best method of power generation from chicken litter.
Gasification of poultry waste is a more environmentally acceptable method, some groups said.
“From an environmental standpoint, in the gasified process there is less of an issue of air emissions,” said Maryland Public Interest Research Group’s Gigi Kellett.
Dan Boone, conservation chairman of The Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter, said the group opposes direct incineration since the process would release toxins into the air.
But gasification is expensive and has not been “scientifically proven on a large scale,” countered Delegate Rudolph C. Cane, D-Wicomico, while incineration is a tried and effective method.
“We’ve got some environmental gurus that feel they know everything,” he said, but “burning poultry litter is the best method to remove tonnage of nitrogen and phosphorous.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation identified poultry manure runoff as the bay’s No. 1 nutrient pollutant, contributing about 40 percent of nitrogen and 50 percent of phosphorous in the watershed.
“At this point we’re just glad to see (energy production from) chicken waste is included in the bill,” said foundation senior scientist Kim Coble, who declined to take a stance on a preferred method. “In terms of nitrogen reduction to the bay, this legislation will be very helpful.”
Overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorous has created a deoxygenated “dead zone” in the bay; has encouraged algae bloom, which inhibits the growth of underwater grasses, and has been connected with outbreaks of the toxic microbe Pfiesteria, all resulting in extensive damage to the waterway’s fisheries.
Now, under the state’s Water Quality Improvement Act, the shore’s poultry farmers have to report their use of fertilizers and have until July 1, 2004, to submit a nitrogen- and phosphorus-based nutrient management plan to be implemented by the following year.
That means dealing with the estimated 800,000 tons of poultry manure annually produced on the Delmarva Peninsula, according to John Sparkman of Maryland Environmental Services.
Farmers will gladly sell their chicken droppings, said Maryland Farm Bureau spokeswoman Valerie Connelly, though she did not take a position on Busch’s bill.
“The farming community supports efforts to find alternative uses for this product,” she said. “If (this technology) allows us to take substantial poultry litter and use it here, it is better than hauling it miles and miles away for some other land use.”
Plans for poultry litter electric generation are not new, said Cane, who cited plans for FibroShore, a 30-to-40-watt plant that would burn about 300,000 tons of manure and provide electricity to about 150,000 people. That facility was in the works when his bill fell through.
Two other proposals also terminated, said Diane Brown, manager of energy planning at the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Allen Family Foods’ plan to retrofit its Hurlock plant to gasify poultry manure folded after its partner reneged, while the proposed incineration plant at Eastern Correctional Institute in Princess Anne was shelved due to high costs.