Backers seek input from neighbors before proceeding
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Pixley Biogas has voluntarily put its manure-digester biogas project on hold after neighbors of the plant raised environmental concerns.
Those involved in the project want more time to work with the community to improve the project, said Daryl Maas, co-owner of Farm Power Northwest and an independent consultant on the project.
"We didn't want to force it through while there's not agreement," he said.
Calgren Renewable Fuels asked the Tulare County, Calif., Planning Commission to delay its June 22 hearing on permitting the digester. The $10 million project would take manure from two or three area dairies and convert it into methane to fire boilers at its ethanol plant.
The plan would reduce the ethanol plant's natural gas use by 8 percent, with the added benefit of taking dairy waste out of nearby open lagoons, said Lyle Schlyer, Calgren CEO.
But neighbors, including California Dairy Inc., which has a processing plant a quarter of a mile upwind of Calgren, said they want more assurance the project won't cause air- and water-quality problems.
"They're hauling manure. We're a food processing facility," said Mike Wyant, CDI vice president of engineering. "If you're within 1,000 feet ... you have to make sure there are enough safeguards to protect the food and the people."
CDI states Pixley Biogas has not provided enough conclusive information to satisfy concerns and wants a full environmental impact study.
"They do have concerns, obviously. They have a very expensive food plant, and we want to make sure we mitigate those concerns," Maas said. "At the same time, they keep asking for more studies, and that could effectively end the project."
The project has passed muster with the regional water quality and air quality boards, won the approval of the Tulare County Resource Management Agency and received a $4.6 million grant from the California Energy Commission.
CDI put together a team of consultants to review what the county had compiled, and they determined more research is needed, Wyant said.
Another study could take two years, Maas said.
"Every significant professional or regulatory authority on digesters says the technology improves air and water quality," he said. But "if the perception is out there that this project will do the opposite, then we don't want to proceed without getting our neighbors' support."
Owned by dairymen, CDI supports the Pixley digester, Wyant said.
"But as proposed, they've not given enough answers for us to give it a thumbs-up," he said.
Pixley will continue working with CDI and neighbors, even discussing how CDI's wastewater could be handled by the digester to produce energy, Maas said.
"We're all trying," he said.
"We're hopeful through better communication and better understanding, we can work something out," Schlyer said. "It's a good project, but if it doesn't go forward, it's not the end of the world."