'Poop-to-power' bill advances to House committee

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 | 7:21 p.m. CDT; updated 7:51 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 20, 2010
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On Tuesday, the House Committee heard a bill that would allow methane from animal waste to qualify as a source of renewable energy. The process would involve turning methane into carbon dioxide, which proponents say is less harmful to the environment.

JEFFERSON CITY — A House committee heard legislation Tuesday to classify poop-to-power as renewable energy, a proposal that has already passed through the Senate.

The bill would modify a 2008 voter-approved law that requires investor-owned utilities, such as AmerenUE, to get at least 15 percent of their power from renewable energy by 2021.

It would add methane gas collected from animal waste to the list of acceptable renewable energy sources. The list includes solar, wind and methane gas collected from landfills and waste water.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, calls the legislation "one more tool for that toolbox to make sure that we can make it" to the requirements approved by voters.

"This is a very simple piece of legislation just adding one more piece to our portfolio of renewable energy," Barnitz said.

Barnitz said the Department of Natural Resources and the federal government offer grants to fund the technology needed — known as "anaerobic digestion" — to recover the methane from manure. Barnitz also said the process significantly reduces odor.

"I absolutely believe that it will be a huge asset to air quality," Barnitz said.

Jeff Windett, president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, and Don Nikodim, executive vice president of the Missouri Pork Association, spoke in favor of the bill.

"The technology has changed to the point where it's gonna be a lot more feasible," Nikodim said.

Warren Wood, director of the Missouri Energy Development Association, also testified in favor. He said 89 percent of Missouri's electricity is generated by coal and nuclear power plants, entities that are becoming increasingly costly to run.

David Klindt, vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, and Phil Wright, director of the Midwest Alliance for Renewable Energy, testified in favor of the legislation. Wright said the technology would create "concentric rings of economic development."

"We talk about this all the time — poop to power," Wright said. "(This would) provide little mini power plants all over, and create small businesses around that."

But environmental advocates questioned the wisdom of changing voter-approved ballot language, as well as the environmental impact of the technology.

P.J. Wilson, director of Renew Missouri, the organization that created the voter-approved Proposition C, said there are no farms in Missouri that now collect methane gas from livestock waste for energy use, but plans are in place to move forward. Wilson that while he was in Costa Rica, he built an anaerobic digester for three hogs. Wilson said a number that small would probably not be financially feasible in Missouri but that programs are in place to identify appropriate sizes.

Wilson said methane gas from animal waste was left out of Proposition C after being "identified as a potentially controversial source of energy."

Unlike solar or wind  energy, there is not a consensus about whether methane gas collected from animal waste is renewable, he said. Livestock have to be fed and cared for, and the fuel required detracts from the economic benefits of anaerobic digestion.

"What's really the environmental impact?" Wilson said.

Jason Hughes, clean energy coordinator for the organization, said in an interview that animal waste methane gas was left out from Proposition C for the "purpose of passing the ballot."

"We wanted to keep it as simple and as clean as possible," Hughes said, "with the opportunity to add new technologies as they come along."

Erin Noble, Missouri Coalition for the Environment energy policy coordinator, said adding on to Proposition C could detract from the originally cited energy sources.

Noble said, "we are not opposed to methane as a renewable energy source, but we do not support the bill in its current form, because if you are going to expand to include an additional resource to count toward Proposition C requirements, we believe that the 15 percent cap should increase incrementally as well."


Ginger Harris, legislative chair of the Missouri Sierra Club, said the group opposes the bill.

"If legislators want to encourage the utilization of methane for energy purposes, they should pass a bill that creates their own renewable energy standard for methane," she said.

Harris said adding to the resources cited in Proposition C without adjusting the 15 percent requirement would be "diluting other renewable and sustainable sources of energy, like solar wind and water."

"Unlike solar, there's no expectation of an adequately high quantity of energy coming from animal waste-produced methane," she said.

Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, said his priority was keeping costs low for citizens, whether it was through solar, wind, or methane gas energy.

"Since we're talking about animal waste, in a better word, crap runs downhill, and the guy on the end is gonna pay the bill, and the guy on the end is our consumers," Loehner said. "That's what we need to look at."

The committee took no action on the proposal.

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