Pa. launches initiative to improve environment; benefits ag community

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LANCASTER, Pa. – Pennsylvania has launched a $5 million initiative that will help improve air quality, preserve land and protect local watersheds while providing economic opportunities for the state’s agricultural community.

The initiative, Pennsylvania Energy Harvest, will help finance the implementation of clean and renewable energy technologies such as biomass and wind power.

“Pennsylvania Energy Harvest will encourage energy innovation by funding projects that use sources which in some respects are unique and especially important to Pennsylvania,” said Department of Environmental Protection Acting Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty.

“Embracing new technologies will ensure the state realizes dividends in environmental protection, economic growth and energy security.”

Affects farmers. By utilizing clean and renewable energy technology, farmers can reduce costs, increase profitability and protect the environment at the same time, according to Department of Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff

“With this initiative, I am confident more farmers will follow the path of Rocky Knoll Farm and countless others in the Commonwealth.”

Farmers, legislators, representatives of the agricultural community and environmental advocates attended the unveiling of the initiative at Rocky Knoll Farm, a 4,500-head hog farm that has been using a methane digester since 1985 to produce electricity.

The digester generates about $3,500 per month in income by processing manure from the hog operation and a limited amount of milk product residue from a nearby Frito-Lay factory.

The first of its kind in the United States, the farm has been visited by individuals from China, Japan and a number of Eastern European countries.

Methane generation. Harlan Keener, who sold his farm but retained interest in the digester, has traveled extensively to talk about his success with methane generation.

The farm is now owned by Joe Sweeney, who leases it to another operation.

“Pennsylvania is on the cutting edge here. Our agricultural industry is already renowned for its productivity. Now it has a chance to be recognized for an innovation that can generate added revenue while cleaning up the environment,” said state Rep. Scott Boyd.

From the farm. The output from Pennsylvania’s hogs and dairy cows can produce 631,000 megawatt hours.

That is enough to power 86,000 homes or reduce the need for 384,459 barrels of oil, which would fill up more than a half-million average-sized cars with gasoline-or roughly the number of all passenger cars registered in Philadelphia.

Aside from biodigesters, wind energy also provides a steady income through leases and royalty payments.

Although leasing arrangements vary widely, a reasonable estimate for income to a farmer or landowner from a single utility-scale turbine is about $3,000 a year.

On a smaller scale, a 10-kilowatt wind turoine, the type typically found on farms, saves about $1,080 in energy costs each year.

Farmers can still grow crops or raise cattle next to the tower.

“If farmers can reduce production costs, turn unwanted farm byproducts into useful resources and help generate more energy at the same time, it’s a winning combination for agriculture and all of Pennsylvania,” said Guy F. Donaldson, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Federal funding. Pennsylvania Energy Harvest mixes money from the Clean Air Fund, Growing Greener and U.S. Department of Energy grant funding to support clean and renewable energy projects that can help the state better manage its energy resources, improve the environment and spur economic development.

Possible projects. Among some of the projects that could qualify for funding:

* Using biomass, which includes any organic and renewable material, such as agricultural byproducts, for electricity generation.

A secondary benefit might include switchgrass, which when planted near a stream as an energy crop can improve water quality.

* Implementing wind farms to produce pollution-free power locally for farmers, industrial parks and others.

Pennsylvania currently has 35 megawatts of capacity from large-scale projects with an additional 100 megawatts planned.

* Taking advantage of existing waste coal to produce energy.

Combustion techniques used in previous decades were not as efficient as the boilers and gasification systems of today, so many waste coal piles that dot the state’s landscape still retain high-energy value.

* Using small-scale solar power systems in rural areas to mitigate other environmental impacts.

For example, a farm could use solar power to pump water to livestock, eliminating the need to either truck water or herd animals to a stream; or solar power could be used to power traffic signals at a busy intersection.

Program’s design. Pennsylvania Energy Harvest is designed to encourage clean and renewable energy demonstration projects that will have real and measurable impacts on pollution reduction, environmental quality and energy generation, rather than projects that focus solely on public outreach and communication.

The initiative is open to farmers, local governments, conservation districts, nonprofit organizations, farms, businesses and school districts, colleges and universities.

The deadline to apply is Sept. 19, 2003.

For information about the Pennsylvania Energy Harvest grant, visit www.state.pa.us or call 717-705-5400.

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