That odor wafting from 550,000 cows that make up Idaho’s growing dairy herd smells like energy independence and economic development to state energy czar Paul Kjellander.
Idaho is now America’s No. 3 milk producer, trailing California and Wisconsin. That also means it’s cow pie central.
Mountains of manure are fueling Kjellander’s dream of pipelines crisscrossing the Snake River plain, linking manure digesters at dairies large and small to central refineries that produce natural gas pure enough for homes or cars. Processed manure would be sold as plant bedding. Dairies could also fire turbines, shooting electricity into the power grid. And they could sell carbon credits in schemes to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Kjellander, who heads up Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Office of Energy Resources, is pushing a package of income tax credits, property tax waivers and other incentives in the 2009 Legislature starting Jan. 12 to transform Idaho’s southern heartland into a methane Mecca.
Minneapolis-based Cargill, Inc. is already building poop-to-power facilities here, while a tiny startup with big plans is struggling to survive.
“We can put together the right package and right mechanism to help move it along,” Kjellander told The Associated Press. “You’ve got to have somebody locally who is ready to take the risk and move this forward. But the state can provide the right type of incentives.”
Other states are also trying to whet potential investors’ appetites.
Minnesota recently gave a farmer more than $200,000 to finance a project that returns unused electricity to its power grid. Washington offers sales tax exemptions for dairies that install digesters. And in the midst of 2001’s rolling blackouts, California set aside $10 million for “manure methane power production projects.”
Idaho’s measure would eventually allow counties elsewhere, including depressed timber hamlets in the northern forests, to create alternative “energy enterprise zones” to assist companies in turning wood waste to energy.