Burning chicken manure is one option Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening and Delaware Gov. Thomas Carper are studying to help dispose of the waste from numerous poultry farms on the Delmarva Peninsula.

The two governors said at a recent meeting that burning the manure at an oil-burning Conectiv power plant in Vienna, MD is an option they will explore further with company officials. Maryland already plans to burn manure to generate power and steam heat at the Eastern Shore Correctional Institution in Westover, MD.

But officials are still studying whether the prison proposal will work because phosphorus, the nutrient prompting the most concerns about water quality, remains abundant in the ash. Other concerns, such as how to transport and store the manure safely, must also be resolved. If Delaware begins exporting manure to Maryland for burning, Carper said the industry and federal government would be expected to help pay for its disposal.

Maryland and Delaware are working together to solve the manure problem because of the numerous poultry farms in both states and shared groundwater across the peninsula, the governors said.

Phosphorus from poultry manure is blamed for the spread of the toxic microbe Pfiesteria piscicida, which is linked to the deaths of thousands of fish in Eastern Shore waterways in 1997. Under Maryland law, farmers will eventually be required to reduce nutrient runoff over several years to improve water quality. Maryland is also improving its sewage treatment plants.

Of the 300,000 tons of chicken manure produced on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore each year, about half is considered in excess of what the land can consume as an agricultural fertilizer.

Conectiv’s plant in Vienna now burns oil to generate 155 megawatts, with about 50 megawatts possible for conversion to manure burning. Manure is an attractive alternative fuel for the company because it is less expensive than oil, said spokesman Michael Ratchford.

Delaware and Wilmington-based Conectiv officials began considering manure burning for power generation in 1980 and revived the talks a year ago because of concern about nutrient runoff. But any proposal would need public support, officials said. Maryland’s Somerset County prison now burns wood chips for all of its power and three-quarters of its heat. A state study found the four megawatt generator could consume 36,600 tons of manure a year and the boiler about 10,000 tons a year.

A power plant in England is already burning chicken manure for power and converting the ash into fertilizer.