As with any dirty but necessary work, somebodys got to do it.
And when it comes to extracting energy from an unpleasant material like cow manure, John R. Greenwood has stepped forward no doubt watching his footing. His herd of about 1,300 mature cows and 1,200 young stock provides him ample opportunity to fine-tune the project he has undertaken.
Mr. Greenwood and his wife, Linda R., run Greenwood Dairy Farm on Route 310 in St. Lawrence County. The Canton farm also hosts an anaerobic digester, which removes methane gas from cow manure.
Through this process, the methane is converted to electricity. Mr. Greenwood said he can sell any electricity he doesnt use to run his farm to National Grid.
Kate T. Muller, communications director for the New York State Energy and Research and Development Authority, said this endeavor complements Gov. Andrew Cuomos statewide goal of increasing energy produced by renewable resources. This is a worthwhile objective as it will provide cleaner sources of energy and make local businesses more productive.
This project began for Mr. Greenwood back in 2008 when he was given a grant of $433,564 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition, the NYSERDA pledged $700,000 to be paid out over three years as long as the digester was operating successfully.
But Mr. Greenwood wasnt sure the project could be done efficiently, so he put it on the back burner. The NYSERDA sweetened the pot earlier this year by increasing its funding to $2 million.
This includes the payout of $700,000 over the next decade based on kilowatt-hours of electricity produced. Mr. Greenwood will still qualify for the federal grant provided the digester is functional by this fall.
Government funding sometimes creates more problems than it solves. The case of subsidies for corn ethanol is a classic example. While corn producers have loved the cash, creating ethanol has decreased the amount of corn destined for human consumption and resulted in an inefficient energy source.
But the grant money offered for anaerobic digestion was done wisely. Mr. Greenwood will get large sums of these grants as long as his machine is up and running soon and its efficiently producing renewable energy.
The manure thats treated through the process also has further uses. The solids can be used for animal bedding, and the liquids will be spread as fertilizer on the farm.
To have more dairy farms engaged in this process would prove beneficial. They could create more milk for Greek-style yogurt by increasing their herds, providing them with enough manure for the anaerobic digester. And this additional manure would be treated in such a way as to produce more electricity with the leftovers suitable for other uses.
This is a sensible model for economic growth and environmental conservation. It rewards success and benefits those who work the land to earn their keep as well as the rest of us who live off the fruits of their labor. Local dairy farmers who are in a position to embark on such a project should follow in Mr. Greenwoods footsteps just as long as they promise to scrape off their boots afterward.