Sonoma Electricity May Come from Chicken Poop

New plant could power over 2000 homes

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    CHENGDU, CHINA - JANUARY 20: (CHINA OUT) Cockerals on sale at a stall on January 20, 2009 in Chengdu of Sichuan Province, China. Following the deaths from 'bird flu' of a 19 year old woman in Beijing and a 27 year old woman in eastern Shandong Province in the last two weeks, a 16 year old boy from Guizhou province died today in hospital in Hunan after becoming the fourth human to contract the H5N1 Avian Influenza virus in China this year. A two year old girl in Shanxi province remains critically ill. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

    When it comes to chickens; is there anything they can't do?

    Among their many talents (clucking, pecking, staring off into space), the most amazing may be generating electricity. Or more accurately, generating electricity via their waste.

    The Sonoma board of Supervisors is considering a plan to construct a power plant that will "digest" manure from local egg farms, converting it into methane that can power 2,100 homes. The county could award $35 million to a company called OHR Biostar to build the facility, which would be on or near Sonoma County Water Agency's treatment plant on 8th Street East.

    It's actually not a new idea. Power plants in the North Bay already use cow byproducts to generate electricity. And currently, local farms' waste is currently carted over to Oakland, where it's used to generate electricity for the East Bay. Keeping the byproduct closer to its point of origin will reduce transportation expenses and pollution.

    Compost from home food scraps can also be used in "digestors" to anaerobically generate methane. But it's an expensive process, requiring airtight facilities.

    The idea is catching on around the state, with other companies approaching towns and counties with similar ideas. The state processes over 250 million chickens, so there's no shortage of material to process.

    Concerns about environmental impact plague such projects, however. In Minnesota, one company was ordered to pay $65,000 in fines for permit violations that included an insufficient sulfur-dioxide monitor. But done properly, such plants can have a massive environmental benefit by eliminating a substance that would otherwise be destined for landfills.