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Calif. ethanol plant surprised by opposition to AD project

By Holly Jessen | June 20, 2011

Maybe it’s because they didn’t get the word out adequately. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t talk to their neighbors soon enough in the process. Whatever the reason, some just aren’t as convinced, as Calgren Renewable Fuels LLC is, that an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant would be positive for the community. “We just got sideways I think on this one,” said Lyle Schlyer, president of the company.

The 58 MMgy ethanol plant located near Pixley, Calif., has been awarded a $4.68 million matching grant from the California Energy Commission. The company wants to build a $10 million anaerobic digester that would turn manure from area dairies into biomethane to power the plant.

A decision on a special use permit was tabled at a recent Tulare County Planning Commission meeting after area residents and California Dairies Inc., the state’s largest dairy cooperative, aired their concerns about the project. Among those concerns were odor, the impact to air or water quality and possible contamination by pathogens—things digesters actually improve or prevent, Schlyer said.

Currently, area dairies pump manure into lagoons. “Which is just an anaerobic digester anyway, whether you like it or not,” he said, adding that lagoons can be a source of odor and other issues. If Calgren gets approval to build the anaerobic digester, it would pump liquid manure from a nearby dairy and haul in additional manure solids from other dairies. The resulting biogas would mean reduced use of natural gas at the ethanol plant and also result in clean fiber bedding for cattle and a pathogen-free liquid fertilizer.

The issue will be taken up again June 20 at a Pixley Town Council meeting followed by another planning commission meeting June 22. Calgren is grateful for the opportunity to educate the community about the positives of AD and hopes the opinions of the opposition are not set in stone, Schlyer said.

If the permit is not approved, and approved quickly, the grant money may be in jeopardy. “We are trying to be responsive to the California Energy Commission’s pretty tight deadlines here and I think part of that is giving people the impression we are trying to rush it,” he said. “We’re really not.” He added that whatever happens, Calgren doesn’t want to let this ruin the company’s relationship with the community. “We wouldn’t have gone near this project unless what we were doing was helpful,” he said.

If the special use permit is approved it wouldn’t take long to start building the anaerobic digesters, although a few more permits are still needed. “We are pretty confident that we would be in construction this year,” he said. “I’m not sure we can get it done this year but we’d be pretty doggone close I think. These things always take longer than you think.”