From Turkey Waste, a New Fuel and a New Fight

BENSON — For anyone curious about what thousands of tons of turkey litter looks like, piled high into an indoor olfactory-assaulting mountain of manure, this old railroad stop on the extreme edge of alternative energy production is the place to be.
calendar icon 7 June 2007
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Greg Langmo, a turkey grower who lobbied for the litter-burning power plant, visiting a farm where he keeps some of his 49,000 birds

Derek Miller, a plant employee, extracting a sample of litter from the bed of a truck for testing. Thanks to the abundance of local droppings, Benson is home to a new $200 million power plant that burns turkey litter to produce electricity. For the last few weeks now, since before generating operations began in mid-May, turkey waste has poured in from nearby farms by the truckload, filling a fuel hall several stories high.

The power plant is a novelty on the prairie, the first in the country to burn animal litter (manure mixed with farm-animal bedding like wood chips). And it sits at the intersection of two national obsessions: an appetite for lean meat and a demand for alternative fuels.

But it has also put Benson, a town of 3,376 some three hours west of Minneapolis, on the map in another way: as a target of environmental advocates who question the earth-friendliness of the operation.

The critics say turkey litter, of all farm animals’ manure, is the most valuable just as it is, useful as a rich, organic fertilizer at a time when demand is growing for all things organic. There is a Web site devoted to detailing the alleged environmental wrongs at the power plant, which detractors consider just another pollutant-spewing, old-technology incinerator dressed up in green clothing.

A related issue is that the electricity is expensive, as called for in a utility contract that led to the plant’s construction, and that it requires a lot of input for a rather small output. Marty Coyne of Platts Emissions Daily, a newsletter that analyzes issues related to the energy markets, said it would take 10 waste-burning plants the size of the one here to equal the energy generated by one medium-size coal-fired plant.

Source: TheNewYorkTimes
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