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.”


2 Responses

  1. Bioblogger



    It is sad how knee-jerk resistant to change residents can be - particularly when a project like this one improves on the very concerns that raise NIMBY ire. The current solution of pumping manure into aerobic lagoons is smelly, reeks uncaptured methane into the atmosphere, and loses the benefits of recovered energy that can lower area GHG emissions. The anaerobic solution will not only lower the ethanol plant's carbon footprint, but will remove a source of air pollution, and provide what most communities crave - new jobs from green energy and waste conversion. The Tulare County Planning Commission shows some leadership here. Not every objection is valid and, in this case, most are counter-productive.

  2. Ben Lubbon



    This NIMBY reaction demonstrates the importance of community outreach regardless how proactive a project may be. Objections may be easily overcome by listening to the neighborhood over chocolate milk and cookies; and then by facilitating the community’s concerns. Every objection is valid until they are countered with solutions to green light the project months before going to the planning commission and local governing bodies. Future project organizers best take note and hire public affairs advocates capable of changing NIMBYs into YIMBYs.


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