Poultry power article needed to discuss facilities' impacts

I read with interest Rona Kobell's article, "Poultry Power! Plants turning chicken litter into fuel, fertilizer," (September 2011) about turning poultry waste into an energy source. I was disappointed that the story did not further investigate the environmental record of Fibrowatt, nor the impacts to communities near these facilities.

Delmarva is facing the possiblity of two Fibrowatt plants going into service, with land next to the state prison in Somerset County a possible site.

While it is encouraging to see Maryland and the poultry industry acknowledge the very real problem of an excess of poultry manure on the Delmarva Peninsula, Fibrowatt is not the miracle solution.

According to Fibrowatt's permits, its Benson, MN, plant emits more arsenic - a toxic chemical added to poultry feed, excreted in the waste and released as a byproduct of incineration - than any other source in the state. (http://hburgnews.com/2010/04/28/fibrowatts-u-s-projects/).

A recent, peer-reviewed journal article (http://www.bayactionplan.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Stingone2011NewSolutions-PoultryLitterIncineration.pdf) summarizes the environmental health and environmental justice issues associated with the incineration of poultry waste. It found that many of the emissions, including those mentioned above, are associated with a variety of diseases and functional impairments.

Until Maryland and Virginia put a cap on the total number of chickens that can be raised on the Delmarva Peninsula and deal with the issue of arsenic in the manure before it is burned, Fibrowatt will simply serve as an excuse to increase production of poultry on Maryland and Virginia's Eastern Shore rather than hold the industry at sustainable levels for the well-being of all who live on the Delmarva Peninsula, as well as the health of our waterways.

Kathy Phillips,
Assateague CoastKeeper
Berlin, MD

Don't solve water woes by polluting the air

The article, "Poultry Power! Plants turning chicken litter into fuel, fertilizer," (September 2011) states that "officials in Maryland and Virginia have changed their tune" and are eager to consider a large-scale poultry litter-to-energy power plant operated by a company like Fibrowatt.

In Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, local elected officials, residents and poultry growers remain very skeptical of the impact of a Fibrowatt-type plant on air quality, transportation networks and grower income.

Page County firmly rejected a Fibrowatt proposal in 2010 and neighboring counties show little interest in accepting it. The litter-to-energy plant in Page would have required a 300-foot smokestack on the doorstep of Shenandoah National Park, with air emissions comparable to a coal-fired power plant. Hundreds of litter trucks would have overloaded the rural roads to the plant.

And, some growers complained that mandatory 10-year-contracts to supply the plant offered $5 or less per ton for litter that can reap $25 or more per ton as fertilizer.

A single, big litter-to-energy plant may look good in the Virginia WIP approved by the EPA, but the scale and impacts reflect the wrong approach. It makes no sense to trade a water quality problem for an air quality one as we deal with excess manure in the Shenandoah Valley and elsewhere in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Growers and residents in the Shenandoah Valley are exploring opportunities for much smaller scale manure-to-energy operations that could address excess litter where it is produced - on the farm. At a July 27 workshop - sponsored by our local Cooperative Extension office, a regional contract growers' group and several poultry integrators - speakers described pyrolysis, composting and other farm-scale technologies that can reduce or eliminate on-farm energy costs, notably heating.

The potential exists for farmers to sell excess power back to the grid, and, in some cases, produce a salable fertilizer byproduct.

This fall, two Virginia environmental agencies will release a very limited study of the impacts of a Fibrowatt-type plant in the Shenandoah Valley. But local leaders, growers and residents are optimistic that we can better address nutrient loads at a smaller scale, with lower impacts on communities and natural resources and a higher income for the farmer.

Megan Gallagher
Shenandoah Valley Network
The Plains, VA