Bioenergy build-out in Chesapeake Bay region spawns controversy

Bioenergy plants are rolling out across the nation, taking organic waste and turning it into energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the approach is not without controversy in regions like the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, where biogas is closely tied with the poultry industry, according to FERN’s latest story, by reporter Leanna First-Arai.

One planned facility — that will process the waste from industrial chicken farms — has split the environmental community in the region. While some see the benefits of the plant in reducing chicken waste that eventually pollutes the Chesapeake Bay, others think it is propping up the expansion of poultry in the Delmarva region, which is already a top site for the industry.

“In addition to producing 4 billion pounds of what the industry touts as the healthiest, most affordable, and climate-friendly meat, Delmarva also annually generates hundreds of thousands of tons of chicken waste, including manure, feathers, bones, and processing sludge,” First-Arai writes.

To deal with that waste stream, the bioenergy plant will digest the refuse and turn it into methane fuel, which can be used in a variety of energy applications, from heating homes to running trucks. In 2021, the USDA allocated $123 million to support anaerobic digestion projects, and it plans to increase that spending in 2022. Many developers are also receiving funds from state and county coffers, First-Arai says.

Although reducing direct methane emissions has direct benefits for the climate, “dozens of civic, religious, and environmental groups on Delmarva are actively opposing the plants,” the story says. “That’s because biogas systems are not perfectly airtight. From production through end use, they can leak up to 15 percent of the gas they produce.” They may even be “more climate intensive than fossil natural gas, particularly if a wave of facility build-outs encourages ‘intentional’ waste production.”

You can read the full story at FERN.