Promising Pilot Program in Dorchester Turns Chicken Manure Into Energy

A Bay Journal article (2017-02-09) discussed a pilot program in Dorchester County that is turning poultry manure into energy. The disposal of poultry waste has long posed a challenge to the Eastern Shore’s chicken industry. A primary disposal method in the past was to spread the manure on nearby farmland but that practice has resulted in many fields becoming overloaded with phosphorus, which threatens the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways.

The pilot program in Dorchester features a $3 million dollar system installed in two poultry houses on Brad Murphy’s “Double Trouble” farm by the Irish firm BHSL. The State committed $1 million to the project. From the article:

The [BHSL] system curtails the ammonia fumes that not only make poultry houses stink, but compromise the birds’ health. It also can give farmers a financial boost — they can avoid paying for propane to heat the houses, and even make a little income from selling excess energy generated by the system that’s fed into the electric grid.

Maryland’s Department of Agriculture has committed nearly $3.8 million to try out a variety of manure-to-energy projects, $1 million of which went to the Double Trouble project. It’s the largest investment made by any Chesapeake Bay watershed state toward finding alternative uses for the massive amounts of animal waste generated by poultry, dairy and other livestock farms.

On a visit to the farm Feb. 13, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan praised the Murphys for “leading the way for farmers to improve water quality, increase energy independence, and improve animal waste management to ensure the sustainability of animal agriculture in our state.”

The article explained how manure-to-energy research is being supported by Maryland, nearby states, and the federal government. The article noted that the BHSL system appeared to be one of the more promising technologies for reducing both phosphorus overload in soils and ammonia in air emissions:

 [Because of soil phosphorus build up], manure-to-energy projects have attracted state and federal officials. Virginia and Pennsylvania are also funding similar pilot projects. But the BHSL system is the only one determined by an independent analysis to lower air emissions while also keeping phosphorus out of the water, said Kristen Hughes Evans, executive director of Sustainable Chesapeake. The nonprofit group is coordinating the manure-to-energy initiative for the Bay watershed states. …

In a tightly controlled experiment, two of Murphy’s chicken houses are using traditional propane heat, and the manure the birds produce is cleaned out every six to eight weeks and hauled away to area farms for fertilizer. But in the other two, the poultry litter — a mixture of manure and wood shavings — is kept on site and burned to generate heat and electricity. The University of Maryland is tracking the data. …

In 2011, the Chesapeake Bay Commission sponsored a manure-to-energy summit in Maryland to discuss the potential of new technologies. A representative from BHSL was there, and he later invited members of the tri-state legislative advisory body to see a plant in England. Several Maryland policy-makers made the trip, including Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton.

“It has huge, huge potential,” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who is the Maryland Senate’s only full-time farmer, said of [BHSL’s] system. “And these are very dedicated people.”

According to the article, the BHSL system generates approximately 1 ton of phosphorus rich ash based on 10 tons of poultry manure. Besides being much easier to transport than the unprocessed manure, the ash has potential as a fertilizer product that can be used elsewhere. The cost of the system does remain a challenge, but the article noted that cost could come down significantly if its components could be manufactured locally instead of overseas.

Useful Links

BHSL Website

Maryland Department of Agriculture Website

You’re Invited: Join Us for Our Weekly Legislative Update Conference Call

Every Friday during the legislative session MACo will host a conference call that will update you on the Maryland General Assembly hot topics and bills that affect local governments. Join the conversation at 3:00 pm each week as MACo explores different topics and hosts guest speakers.

This week’s topic (January 27): Energy Siting

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally will be joined by MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp to discuss MACo’s 2017 Legislative Initiative regarding the preemption of local zoning for the siting of “dispersed” energy generation facilities- utility-scale facilities that can be located on farmland or open space.

Conference call information: 1.877.850.5007, passcode: 2690043#

We look forward to your participation! Contact Kevin Kinnally for more information.

Renewable Energy, Septics & Fracking Key Topics at 2017 Annual Environmental Summit

maryland-environmental-legislative-summit-2017 Environmental advocates addressed a standing room only sized crowd at the 23rd Annual Maryland Environmental Summit on January 26 in the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis. The Summit is a forum where the environmental community discusses their collective Session agenda and state and federal officials offer their perspectives pending environmental legislation issues.

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles was the first official speaker, noting, “The State is a leader in demonstrating bi-partisan collaborative approach on climate change.” Grumbles also highlighted Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan’s environmental initiatives for 2017, including: (1) promoting clean cars/electric vehicles; (2) establishing a Green Energy Institute; (3) worker training initiatives for green jobs; and (4) exploring pilot projects that build partnerships to bring additional people and solutions into consideration. On the fourth initiative, Grumbles explained that the Governor wanted to “add additional tools to speed up the clean up of the Chesapeake Bay.”

ben-grumbles-maryland-environmental-summit-2017
Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles Addressing the Summit

Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway, chair of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, stated she did not want “a gold standard but a platinum standard” for natural gas hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) if fracking was ever allowed in Maryland. However, several audience members voiced their opposition when Conway explained that there were not enough votes to pass a full fracking ban on the Senate floor.

Maryland Delegate and House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve pledged that “my committee will act decisively on fracking this year,” and that the House would override Governor Hogan’s veto of legislation last year that would increase the renewable energy targets under Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Barve also argued that solar and other renewable energy must be allowed at scales that make it competitive with fossil fuels and that his committee would be holding discussions on how to “scale up” wind and solar power over the Session.

Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch stated that on environmental issues, “We are not going to back down one iota in the Maryland House of Delegates.” He promised that the House would override the Governor’s RPS veto and would take a “hard look” at banning fracking. He urged attendees to hold their legislators accountable for their environmental votes.

Maryland Senate President Michael “Mike” Miller discussed the success of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps program, criticized the administration of United States President Donald Trump, and noted that the Senate will vote to override Hogan’s RPS veto 34 to 14 on February 2.

audience-maryland-environmental-legislative-summit-2017United States Congressman John Sarbanes pledged to fight to protect environmental progress on Capitol Hill and resist any proposal by the Trump Administration to roll back current environmental requirements.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen was the keynote speaker and discussed the inter-relationship between the environment and public health. Wen asserted that we are living in “wobbly times” right now and argued that it is critical to share stories of success and look at the cost of doing nothing and not just at the cost of intervention when making policy decisions. Wen also stressed the linkage between environmental justice and social justice, arguing that “environmental justice is the social justice issue of our time.”

Environmental advocates also presented their top four priorities for the 2017 Session:

  1. Override Governor Hogan’s veto of last year’s RPS legislation (Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act)
  2. Ban fracking in Maryland
  3. Pass the Keep Antibiotics Effective Act (would limit the use of antibiotics on farms)
  4. Reinstate a requirement to use septic systems with best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) everywhere in the State

In discussing the BAT septic system issue, 1000 Friends of Maryland Executive Director Dru Schmidt-Perkins acknowledged that nitrogen pollution from septic systems was only a small part of Maryland’s total nitrogen load but stated that it was one of the few pollution areas still growing and that no county was currently meeting its 2025 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load reduction for septic systems. Schmidt-Perkins also stressed the need to protect local waters as well as the waters of the Bay.

Useful Links

Conduit Street Article – Governor Hogan Unveils 2017 Environmental Initiatives

Manure Transport Program Benefits Bay But Brings Costs

A Baltimore Sun article (2017-01-15) that a State Manure Transport Program that shares the costs of proper disposal of poultry and cow manure is facing increasing costs and could run out of money during the next fiscal year. The program pays for one-half of the costs for farmers, brokers, and poultry companies to haul manure around the Delmarva peninsula to be spread as fertilizer on fields or converted into fertilizer products such as Perdue’s AgriRecycle or Scott’s Miracle Gro Organic Choice. The program also assists Maryland dairy farmers with the hauling and soil injection of cow manure.

Maryland will likely spend more than $1 million this year on the program, and some expect the payouts to increase as restrictions to protect the Chesapeake Bay tighten. Animal waste is blamed for more than a third of the nitrogen and more than half of the phosphorus that pollute the bay. State regulations limit the amount of manure farmers may spread on their fields.

The bill nearly hit seven figures for the first time in the fiscal year that ended in June, according to state data provided to The Baltimore Sun through a public records request. Nearly half of it went to [Perdue’s Delaware AgriRecycle] facility and to the Delaware broker Ray Ellis, who said most of his grants went toward shuttling manure to Pennsylvania mushroom farms. …

The state began subsidizing the cost of transporting manure in 1998, shelling out $18,000.

Costs hit $954,000 in 2016, when tonnage surged above 200,000 for the first time.

Norman Astle, who oversees the program for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the program could run out of money this year for a second straight year. …

In the current fiscal year, $357,000 of the state money spent on manure transport comes from general state tax receipts, and $750,000 comes from the state’s Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.

While the program is credited with playing a role in the recent water quality gains of the Chesapeake Bay, some environmental groups question whether taxpayer dollars should be involved.

“Other industries aren’t afforded these types of subsidies,” said Katlyn Clark, a legal fellow with Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Manure is an unavoidable consequence of growing, raising, and selling chickens — yet, larger chicken companies have essentially placed this burden on taxpayers and growers of the chickens.”

Grant recipients say they need the subsidy to help defray the cost of helping farmers comply with tightening restrictions on runoff to the bay. …

“I think the industry pays their fair share and this is something that comes back to the industry,” said Steve Lavitsky, vice president of sustainability for Perdue Farms.  …

State agriculture officials said the program has helped clean up the bay. …

“A recent report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation shows that bay health is improving for the first time since 1998, and I think our farmers have had a lot to do with these results,” the officials said in a statement.

The article also noted legislation was introduced during the 2016 Session by the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition that would have eliminated the transportation subsidy and placed all of the costs on poultry companies. That legislation did not pass.

Useful Links

Manure Transport Program Webpage

Perdue AgriRecycle Webpage

Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition Website

Baltimore County Solar-Farm Bill Withdrawn

Baltimore County councilman Wade Kach withdrew legislation Tuesday that would have regulated the emerging use of solar facilities on rural lands, saying council members could not agree on limits for the size of such projects. The seven-member council was set to vote Tuesday evening on the measure — which would have addressed issues such as height and setback regulations — but Kach withdrew it instead.

As reported by The Baltimore Sun,

The original bill limited solar installations to no more than 20 acres, or half of a property, whichever was smaller. Kach said some council members wanted to increase the size limit to 35 acres, which he said is the equivalent of 27 football fields.

“If you all can envision the Ravens football field, multiply it by 27, that is the size that some on this council believe would be appropriate for the rural part of Baltimore County,” said Kach, a Cockeysville Republican whose district covers the northern part of the county.

Kach also said he expects legal challenges to proposed solar projects.

The legislation was proposed amid growing interest from farmers who want to lease their land to energy companies.

The council heard concerns from rural residents who say the facilities would be an eyesore, and from those worried it would take fertile farmlands out of production.

MACo has adopted energy facility siting as a legislative initiative priority for 2017. A new generation of power facilities – from solar farms to emergent technologies such as biomass or gasification – could be freed up to ignore local zoning and oversight. This decision threatens local land use control; long term planning efforts; and the important rights of communities to guide their own historic, agricultural, and residential character.

Useful Links

Baltimore Sun Article

Boost Local Ag with USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program

usda-amsThe United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications for its Farmers Market Promotion Program which aims to increase domestic consumption of locally and regionally produced agricultural products.

From USDA’s website:

The purpose of the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) is to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets by developing, improving, expanding, and providing outreach, training, and technical assistance to, or assisting in the development, improvement, and expansion of, domestic farmers markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agritourism activities, and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities.

All applicants under FMPP must be domestic entities owned, operated, and located within the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands to be considered eligible. Entities that are eligible to apply include:

  • Agricultural businesses
  • Agricultural cooperatives
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) networks
  • CSA associations
  • Economic development corporations
  • Local governments
  • Nonprofit corporations
  • Producer networks
  • Producer associations
  • Public benefit corporations
  • Regional farmers’ market authorities
  • Tribal governments

Apply now or click here for more information.

PSC Utility Law Judge Denies Controversial Solar Project in Kent

A Kent County News article (2017-01-11) announced that a utility law judge for the Public Service Commission (PSC) has proposed denying the application for the Mills Branch Solar project in Kent County for a Certificate of public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN). The proposed order would effectively halt 60 mega-watt/370 acre project, which has generated local controversy. Kent argued that the project went against its zoning, which does include sites for utility scale solar projects. The project’s developer Apex Clean Energy, argued the PSC could preempt local zoning and that benefits of the project warranted the preemption. From the article:

In the 50-page opinion, Judge Dennis Sober wrote, “I find the evidence in support of the granting of a [CPCN] falls short of proving that the Project meets the standard of Public Convenience and Necessity. I find that the weight of the evidence pertaining to the location of the Project is more negative than positive in its persuasive value of creating benefits to (Kent County) and Maryland.”

Sober said the testimony of witnesses from Keep Kent Scenic, a group formed to oppose the project, and the county government was more persuasive than those of the applicant, Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va. Opponents of the project cited the loss of farmland from crop production and the negative effect of the project on the viewscape and historic sites in the vicinity as reasons to deny the application.

Also, Sober wrote, the staff of the Maryland Public Service Commission “under-valued the importance of the opposition of the local government.” He said the county’s opposition was based on “a reasonable application of land use policies” that are based on local knowledge and experience.

Sober wrote, “Local control over the amount, location, and type of development must be respected by the PSC when there is no weight of evidence of need or benefit to outweigh the local opposition. The weight of the evidence of harm being caused, if the project is built, was significant and was a major factor in my decision to deny the application.”

However, Sober’s proposed order reiterated that the PSC does have the authority preempt local zoning:

On April 26, 2016, a hearing on pending motions was held….In ruling on Kent County’s Motion, I found that the authority of the Commission does preempt the application of the [Kent County] land use ordinance. Therefore, [Kent County’s] Motion for a denial of the application was denied.

The Kent Count News article also included a reaction from Apex:

Apex released the following statement in response to Sober’s ruling: “Though we’re disappointed with the Proposed Order, we still believe Mills Branch Solar is a great project for Kent County and Maryland. Solar energy is good for the economy and good for the environment. This project can provide enough energy to power 10,000 homes, while offering local economic benefits and cutting harmful emissions. We appreciate the letters of support that have been submitted by over 100 Kent County residents, and we appreciate the unanimous support of the neighbors adjacent to the project. We believe that advancing Maryland’s progress toward its renewable energy goals has many benefits, and we’re currently reviewing our options and will provide more information when the time is appropriate.”

The proposed order does not become final until February 10. Before that time: (1) any party that was part of the proceeding may appeal; or (2) the PSC may modify or reverse the order or initiate further proceedings in the matter. Addressing the issue of PSC preemption of local zoning in light of changing energy generation technologies is a 2017 MACo Legislative Initiative. MACo will be introducing legislation shortly to give local zoning greater weight in the PSC siting process.

For further information on MACo’s proposal, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.

Useful Links

Proposed Order of PSC Utility Law Judge for Mills Branch Solar Project

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Mills Branch Project

MACo 2017 Legislative Initiatives

Hogan, Miller Respond to Poultry, Fracking Concerns at 2017 Annapolis Summit

A short Daily Record video (2017-01-11) highlighted some of the environmental questions Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan, House Speaker Michael Busch, and Senate President Thomas Mike Miller fielded from audience members at the 2017 Annapolis Summit. The Summit has become an annual tradition where legislative and executive leadership discuss the key budget and policy issues of the pending Session. WEAA 88.9 FM radio host Marc Steiner hosted and moderated the Summit.

Key among the environmental issues in the video were regulation of the poultry industry and natural gas hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”). Hogan called agriculture “one of our most important industries in Maryland” and stressed his support of farming, particularly on the Eastern Shore. Miller also defended agriculture, rejecting an audience proposal to bring agriculture under Maryland’s Clean Air Act.

Miller stressed that the poultry industry and fracking can both provide jobs to areas of the state that desperately need them. Miller noted that local jurisdictions have the right to ban fracking and if the people of Western Maryland wanted such a ban, they should elect State and local representatives who would support such a measure.

 

 

Renewable Energy, Septics, Livestock Antibiotics Among MDLCV’s 2017 Initiatives

mdlcv-logo

Maryland League of Conservation Voters (MDLCV) blog post (2017-01-10)  highlighted the various issues MDLCV and the statewide environmental coalition it is part of will be advocating for during the 2017 Session, including renewable energy/the Clean Energy Jobs Act, antibiotic use in livestock, a statewide Styrofoam ban, and septic system regulations. From the blog post:

In conjunction with the statewide Maryland Climate Coalition and legislative champions in both the Senate and House of Delegates, we are working to override Governor Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a bill ensuring that Maryland gets 25% of its electricity from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2020. Additionally, we have prioritized banning hydraulic fracturing in the state, a practice that has been linked to disastrous water and air pollution along with serious public health hazards.

We are also lending our support to limiting the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock to stop the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. These bacteria sicken millions of Americans every year and kill tens of thousands. We will also be working on banning Styrofoam statewide. This would be mean no establishment or institution can serve on Styrofoam materials, including restaurants and bans the sale Styrofoam containers or packaging peanuts.

We additionally join with our partners to protect smart growth policies related to septics regulations in reaction to the Governor’s statement this summer on rolling back on Chesapeake Bay restoration.

Related to all environmental legislation, Maryland LCV will be defending the budget for environmental agencies and enforcement of current environmental laws.

Additionally, MDLCV and the statewide coalition is hosting its 2017 Maryland Environmental Summit on January 26 at the Miller Senate Office building. Admission is free but you must register. The keynote speaker will be Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. Various legislators are also scheduled to speak.

Useful Links

2017 Maryland Environmental Summit Registration

MDLCV Website

 

 

Sun Editorial: Large Scale Solar Needs Planning and Zoning

A Baltimore Sun editorial (2016-12-27) commented on the need for balanced land use oversight of large scale solar facilities so that both green energy and valid environmental and rural land use concerns are addressed. Allowing a greater role for local zoning in the location of utility scale energy generation projects is a 2017 MACo legislative initiative. Currently, the Public Service Commission has the authority to preempt local land use policies and counties are struggling with a “land rush” by energy developers to secure rural and open lands for potential utility scale energy sites. Several high profile cases in Kent and Allegany Counties have raised awareness of the issue, but the problem is statewide. The editorial specifically references legislation proposed by Baltimore County Council Member Wade Kach. From the editorial:

As much as solar power has invaded suburban neighborhoods rooftop by rooftop in recent years, the real growth in solar worldwide has been in larger “farms” where electricity is generated and sold to local utilities or perhaps to one or two large companies. Increasingly, builders are buying or leasing cheap rural land and then installing permanent solar panels. It’s a formula that may help promote renewable energy, but it’s not the best use of land in all cases. …

That’s why Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach’s recently-introduced plan to regulate rural solar farms is a timely effort. That’s not to suggest that solar power is to be discouraged. Quite the contrary. But a balance should be struck in promoting renewable energy while also preserving rural areas. …

Scale is another matter. The larger the solar farm, the greater the need for zoning oversight. That includes making sure solar farms aren’t adding too much impervious surface, replacing forest or natural habitat or causing stormwater runoff issues. It would be ironic, indeed, if a major installation of solar panels was found to be hurting the water supply by increasing soil erosion that pollutes local streams which pour into rivers and then the Chesapeake Bay. …

Like most important decisions in the planning and zoning arena, this is a balancing act that must respect the important goal of promoting solar energy while also protecting communities, preserving farm land and sparing historic districts from losing their integrity. We don’t know that the legislation as it’s currently written accomplishes the task satisfactorily, but it is certainly worthy of serious consideration and debate.

As part of its discussion, the editorial was also critical over a recent decision by Howard County to permit utility scale solar facilities on preserved farmland.