Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Poop on Pollution Profiteering: Methane Gas from Cows to Green Energy

Something Cheesy in Colorado?
-Congress, Cows, Cash, and Carbon Credits-

GREELEY, CO – Not nearly as pungent nor knee-deep as the town of Washington, DC and the malodorous Sand Hill Road venture capital ties to the Beltway, the distinctly bovine odor of huge cattle manure piles in Greeley hangs over the city “as it has for half a century.” JBS, which runs two of the largest feed yards and the local slaughterhouse, is testing a new technology that heats cattle excrement and turns it into energy.

But imagine converting that dreadful, smelly poop into “clean energy” where the local cattle slaughter house is right next door to the cheese factory? Emm, good! (This story reminds me of a local strip mall in our SF Bay area town where the sushi restaurant and the sausage factory share the same storefront – one needn't stretch the imagination with the visual of biting into a piece of seaweed-wrapped, raw sausage after the harried chef dips into the wrong bowl of ingredients for the Nigiri – Sake order...)

While the residents of Greeley expressed cautious excitement over the new technology speculated to blow off the town's methane stink, some local residents  might want to  fire up their Ford F-150 flatbeds  and drive to Wisconsin for cheese shopping junkets until all the quality control kinks are worked out. 

Investors are now lining up in Greeley to support a planned clean energypark that “eventually” will convert “some” “of the methane gas released from the manure piles into power for a cheese factory and other businesses. The  article did not mention who these investors are or the name of the methane conversion technology company - nor did it explain the differences in volume between how much “some” manure is or what the technology's limitations are for not converting ALL of it to green energy. Is it possible that even if some of the manure is converted to green energy, the remaining piles will still emit the bovine odor, anyway? Lots of questions here, about Cap 'N Trade emerging (yet to be developed, tested and successfully deployed) venture capitalist backed technology companies in this increasing space of public/private partnerships where American taxpayers foot the bill. (It's good to know that mega-multimillionaire, Health IT/ global climate change businessman Al Gore is a venture partner at Kleiner Perkins, one of the leading investors in emerging, lucrative health IT and green technologies to ensure these public/private partnerships aren't merely licenses to print stock options for a few tech/beltway insiders.)

With the town of Greeley, the idea is to lure new business to the area with what Bruce Biggi, the economic development coordinator likes to call its renewable natural gas — “the endless supply of methane from cheap manure”: Biggi describes turning cow dung into dollars here:

"What once used to be a waste stream that was just a byproduct ... they are now recognizing has value. We needed to take that strong traditional economic base and ... merge it with emerging renewable energy and technology."

To be sure, the incentives abound. The city of Greeley received an $82,000 grant from the governor's energy office this year for the park to study renewable energy where grants will leverage more than $550,000 in matching funds from public-private matching funds. Biggi also added that the money will be used to study the feasibility of an energy park in east Greeley that could use waste from the JBS Swift plant and the soon-to-be-built Leprino cheese factory and Greeley’s own wastewater to create energy. The new Leprino cheese facility will initially bring 260 more jobs to Colorado's economy, with potential for more in the future, said State Governor Bill Ritter, Jr.

Leprino Foods, incidentally, provides mozzarella cheese to huge corporations such as Domino's Pizza and Pizza Hut (whose industry served as the role models  which inspired the AFL/CIO video Pizza 2012 and your health care and the job outsourcing investors and body shops who profit that LWOH reported here) that are potentially primed at the teat to profit from tax incentives and other taxpayer goodies:

The construction of the plant, which will use about 7 million pounds per day of milk, is expected to be complete by 2012. Leprino has invested USD 143 million in the new 847,000 square-foot plant and will mainly produce cheese for pizza makers. Leprino reportedly chose the location partly due to the quality and availability of milk in neighboring Weld County. Moerover, [sic] in December 2007, FLEXNEWS had reported that Leprino had also considered other locations for the plant in north Colorado and in south west Kansas.”

What about pollution politics, local farmer pay and productivity? Remember, climate change legislation in Congress that would reduce the gases linked to global warming will do little – if nothing – to stem the planet's heating unless third world countries don't take the same action (which they resist.) The article notes that if President Barack Obama signs the bill, it would “put a price on each ton of carbon dioxide released” that would drive up the cost of polluting fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas and lead to investment in cleaner sources of energy. Rep. Betsy Markey, D-CO voted for the climate bill when it passed the House in June. Her vote could play a role in her re-election race next year in the largely Republican district. Markey said in a recent interview:

"Our rural communities aren't sold on this yet, there is a lot of uncertainty. But I think in the long run it will stabilize energy prices."

Others, like foruth generation local farmer David Eckhardt, are struggling with the math:

Despite meeting with Bennet and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Eckhardt remains skeptical of an Agriculture Department's analysis of the House climate bill that says farmers stand to make more money from trapping carbon in their soil and crops than they will pay out in higher energy prices."

In addition, local radio host Amy Oliver Cooke had this to say regarding recent concerned protestors who wore shirts that said "Congress, Don't Take Away my Job":

"Why would we do anything to drive up their cost of doing business?"

For citizens like Eckhardt who are concerned about jobs and the economy, a climate law could change what crops he plants. But for JBS, which operates the feedlot down the road from his farm, “changes are already afoot.”

Who ultimately benefit$ from public/private, emerging green (and IT) technology partnerships? You be the judge. There are, to be sure, merits with proven green technologies that provide sustainable energy jobs and alternatives to rescue our overcrowded, dying planet. Let's hope that the shit doesn't hit the fan before Cow Power could become the next best thing en masse.


No comments: