Eastern Shore

Manure-to-Energy Plant on the Eastern Shore: A Solution to Phosphours Pollution in the Bay?

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The following is a piece from Neil Saunders:

On Monday, March 23rd, the Baltimore Sun published an article about a proposed plan to build a manure-to-energy plant on the Eastern Shore. The plan, teamed by New Hampshire-based AgEnergy USA and local poultry giant Perdue, includes a new $200 million plant to extract energy from chicken manure, which is used heavily as fertilizer on farmland on the Eastern Shore. The proposed plant is believed to provide an economic solution to some of the concerns surrounding the recently announced revised Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulations.

The revised PMT regulations will require farmers to restrict the amount of animal manure that is used as fertilizer based on the levels of phosphorus found in their soils. Excessive phosphorus application can lead to greater amounts of the nutrient reaching nearby surface waters and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Too much phosphorus in the Bay causes water pollution and leads to algae blooms and dead zones.

The PMT regulations are part of Maryland’s broader effort to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL), a regulatory framework to coordinate Bay clean-up efforts across the entire watershed area. Unique to Maryland is the heavily concentrated poultry industry on the Eastern Shore. The PMT regulations have been designed to directly address the excessive levels of phosphorus that are reaching the Bay because of the poultry industry’s reliance on phosphorus-rich fertilizers, such as chicken manure.

Although most of the criticism surrounding the PMT regulations centers on the added costs imposed on farmers who would be required to purchase more expensive inorganic fertilizers, which include less phosphorus, another concern is what to do with the excess chicken manure. One solution, which is part of the framework of the PMT regulations, is to transport excess chicken manure from farmlands that are too rich in phosphorus to those farmlands that can use it. The problem with this is that there may not always be a viably marketable method to transport the chicken manure to where it is truly needed. Alternatively, a plant that can take that excess chicken manure and create alternative clean energy from it would not only make good use of the excess manure, but also remove the phosphorus in it from potentially reaching and polluting the Bay.

Implementation of the PMT regulations also plays an important role in completing this project. Recent advances in manure-to-energy technologies create an economic and environmentally friendly method to creating alternative clean energy. In order to invest in such technologies, however, there needs to be greater certainty at the administrative/legislative level to justify project funding. As James Potter, president of AgEnergy USA, says of his proposal in the Sun, “the timing is perfect.”
The proposal is still in the early stages, so there is still some skepticism as to whether the plan will come to fruition. Indeed, past projects similar to the present one have fallen through before. But given the progress made with the recent announcement of the revised PMT regulations and increased attention to the Bay clean-ups efforts around the state, there is reason to believe that this project will play an important role in restoring the Bay.

To access the Baltimore Sun article, visit: http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/blog/bs-md-poultry-litter-plant-20150320-story.html#page=1