(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) supports legislation, which would eliminate limits on how much energy can be generated and sold from the anaerobic processing of animal waste. The anaerobic process uses bacteria to break down manure and create methane to generate heat or electricity. The sludge by-produce retains most of its nitrogen and phosphorus, takes up less space, and can be used as a crop fertilizer, with minimal odor.
The measure, House Bill 1349, introduced by Rep. David Zimmerman (R-Lancaster) can increase the use of anaerobic waste processing technology, enabling many small family farmers with livestock, to better manage and treat manure.
As an economic incentive for producing alternative energy by anaerobic digestion, farms that generate energy beyond their own needs are able to sell the excess back to the power grid. The amount of energy that can be generated and sold is currently limited to 110 percent of a farm's annual electric consumption. The measure eliminates that cap.
Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director, said anaerobic digesters can be one tool, but not necessarily always the best, or the most cost-effective, among many for addressing nitrogen and phosphorous pollution from excessive amounts of manure. Campbell said greatest value of anaerobic digestion is in manure management, as opposed to the water quality protections that conservation practices such as streamside forests provide.
"Manure treatment technologies can play a role in treating the portion of the nutrient load associated with manure, but other practices have been shown to be more cost-effective and with broad environmental benefits. Currently these technologies aren't recognized by the Chesapeake Bay Program as a water quality tool," Campbell said.
Since these technologies primarily deal with nitrogen, to some degree phosphorus, pollution and not at all with the leading cause of stream pollution in the Commonwealth—sediment—they are not considered the solution to local water quality issues and the Bay.
Efforts are underway within the Chesapeake Bay Program to add manure treatment technologies to the roughly 150 accepted practices.
"We recognize and appreciate the PUC's need to balance ratepayer interests and of those looking to produce energy from alternative sources," Campbell said. "Being able to 'sell' surplus energy produced with manure technology through net metering, offsets some of the financial commitment farmers make in the construction, operation, and maintenance of the digester."
Eliminating restrictions on the amount of energy that can be produced and sold through anaerobic digesters can increase their implementation on Pennsylvania farms.
Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) has sponsored a companion bill, SB844, in the state Senate.