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Agriculture accounts for more than half of California’s methane emissions, making it an obvious industry for the air board to regulate as it tries to carry out Brown’s direction.

Methane is a less common greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although studies suggest it’s much more potent in trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. It builds up in dairy manure pits, where farmers store waste for months until they can spread it on the crops they grow to feed their cows.

Digester systems tend to cover the manure pit with a tarp. As the waste decomposes, methane lifts and becomes trapped under heavy plastic.

Several times a day, a small power plant connected to the pit draws down the methane and burns it in the same manner that utilities use natural gas.

“We’re generating clean power, and we’re destroying a greenhouse gas. You can’t beat that,” said Daryl Maas, whose Redding-based Maas Energy Works manages the digester on the Van Warmerdam farm.

Since 2012, the air board has sought to encourage construction of more digesters by offering incentives through the state’s cap-and-trade program. For example, businesses that emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, such as oil refineries, can pay dairies with digesters to offset pollution elsewhere. Maas said he earns as much as a quarter of his California revenue from selling those offset credits.

But so far, the number of digesters has remained far below what environmental groups hoped to see.

“The state is pushing these projects. We as an environmental organization have been pushing these projects. There are really great environmental benefits to these projects, but we’ve had a number of projects that just haven’t been able to get started,” said Rachel Tornek, policy director at Climate Action Reserve.

One of the biggest barriers, she says, is that dairymen have full-time occupations managing farms with hundreds or thousands of cows, leaving them little extra time to operate expensive equipment outside of their expertise.

That’s why some dairies have partnered with companies such as Maas Energy or Washington state’s Regenis to build and operate digesters. The power company finds a buyer for the gas and keeps the equipment running. The dairy tends to receive rent from the business running the digester.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/environment/article101657322.html#storylink=cpy

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Date: 2017-01-27

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