Green Energy or Brown Boondoggle?
HERD ABOUT IT?
by Ana Grarian
The Cayuga County Legislature in CNY met on the last day of August to present a proposal for a new “Green Energy” initiative that would link the county with some industrial dairies, in the southern end of the county, to produce power for the counties Industrial Park in Aurelius. The plan is to have about 10 large CAFO’s build and maintain anaerobic digesters that would feed biogas into a county maintained pipeline/scrubber/generator/compressor complex that would potentially provide electricity, heat and compressed natural gas to prospective industries at the industrial park and perhaps to the neighboring BOCES campus as well. This energy would be touted as “green energy” from “renewable” sources. The county and its agricultural partners are hoping to recruit food processors such as a cheese plant to the site. Food waste from the plants would be trucked to the digesters to increase the production of biogas.
Because biogas from manure digesters is caustic due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide, the pipeline will need to be stainless steel; 40 miles of stainless steel pipeline.
Some of the CAFO’s have already built anaerobic digesters through a combination of their own funds and government grants and loans. Others are on board to proceed if this project goes through. While the digesters can be built to generate electricity on site to power the dairy operations, and can feed power back into the grid, the electric company does not pay enough, nor accept enough, to make this a profitable or even break even operation. The county would become a Power Authority with the ability to broker electricity and gas to commercial clients.
Planners claim this project is needed to protect the environment from the pollution to air, streams and wells by manure. As a matter of fact the same farmers who for years have been denying the impacts of manure lagoons cited this problem repeatedly during the meeting and in the printed material that was distributed to attendees. One forthright farm family spoke of how they turned to a digester because when they went from 100 cows to 1000 cows, the manure stench created problems for themselves and for their neighbors.
The spokesman for the Marketing group repeatedly claimed to speak for Southern Cayuga Dairies.
Ana wonders if they speak for all dairies,
or just the ten or so industrial dairies who can hope to be part of this project?
Ana is also concerned at how dependent the county would be on the CAFO’s. If the CAFO’s choose to keep their power on site, choose to switch to a different technology, find they can’t afford the upkeep on the technology, or stop raising livestock, will the county be left holding the bills for its part of the project, with no energy source flowing into the pipeline? How much power does that give to the CAFO’s? Local politicians are already influenced through campaign contributions from these entitites.
In response to a citizen’s question it was learned that the BION Corporation (the lead player in the 72K cow project in a neighboring county) has been part of the discussion, though it is not currently signed on.
Other citizen questions had to do with: the use of emminent domain in laying the pipeline; whether lagoons to hold manure and food waste would be lined; would we end up in a bidding war with other interested parties on food waste; would Marcellus Shale development reduce the price of natural gas to the detriment of the price that could be charged for biogas; what is the county’s responsibility for disposal of contaminants from scrubbing biogas; who would own the carbon credits; could the trench for the pipeline be leased to other utilities as well to recapture some of the cost?
All good questions. Some had tentative answers, others will be looked into.
This project has been in the idea/planning stages for five years or more, yet this was the first meeting to present it to the public. I know that is the way that boards and committees work, but it would seem to me that an earlier discussion with the public may have determined whether or not their constituencies would even want them to proceed with the idea before so much time and $(?) was used up.
One attendee, a resident of the south end of the county, stated that at their towns planning meetings folks have indicated they don’t want this type of agriculture to continue to spread. Now the county is entering a deal that will push it on them.
Another resident asked, “why should the tax payer pay to clean up a mess made by private industry”?