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Could poultry-litter power plants be in California's future?

Flickr photo by Christy McDonaldThe United States' first poultry-waste power plant was constructed in 2007 in Minnesota.

In the search for new sources of energy, California policymakers may need to look to the birds.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on a company interested in building chicken litter-fueled power plants in poultry-producing states.

The company, Fibrowatt LLC, is based in Langhorne, Penn., and is a unit of the privately held Homeland Renewable Energy.

Chicken and turkey litter is commonly used by farmers to fertilize croplands. The practice, however, is coming under increasing scrutiny by environmentalists who blame the litter for choking rivers and streams with phosphorous-laden runoff. And there may be limits on its use in the future.

So, what’s a chicken farmer to do with all that, er, litter?

Turn it into energy.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

“Fibrowatt is an offshoot of the company that developed the first such plants in the U.K. in the 1990s. It built the U.S.'s first poultry-waste-to-energy plant in 2007 in Minnesota, the nation's largest turkey-producing state. The $200 million Minnesota plant burns 500,000 tons of turkey litter each year. The process creates steam to turn turbines in a 55-megawatt power plant, providing electricity for about 40,000 homes, Fibrowatt says”

California’s poultry industry isn’t as large as Minnesota’s. But it's big enough to provide some power.

According to some 2006* numbers from the California Poultry Federation:

  • California processed more than 250 million broilers, ranking California 12th in the nation in broiler production.
  • Chicken ranked 12th among California's top 20 commodities, with a farm-gate value of about $630 million (according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture 2006 Directory).
  • About 15.8 million turkeys were grown in 2006. Production numbers were up almost 9 percent from 2005, when 14.5 million turkeys were produced.
  • California ranks among the top six states in turkey production. The farm-gate value of turkeys totaled at about $197 million. The 2006 farm-gate saw a $27 million increase just from 2005.

Whether poultry-poop-power plants will be built here remains questionable. Critics say litter plants will emit high levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other particulates.

Indeed, in December, Fibrowatt was ordered to pay fines of $65,000 to Minnesota’s environmental agency for “numerous” permit violations. The company was also ordered to upgrade its sulfur-dioxide monitor.

*(Cody Penfold, outreach and education director for the federation, said the 2006 numbers are still good, if only a little low. Due to confidentiality reasons, the U.S. Department of Agriculture no longer produces yearly totals for broilers in California.)

Filed under: Environment, Daily Report

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