Stepping Aside

California biogas project delayed after neighbors express concern
By Holly Jessen | July 22, 2011

Pixley Biogas and Calgren Renewable Fuels LLC has delayed a project to build a $10 million anaerobic digester.

The 58 MMgy ethanol plant wanted to turn manure from area dairies into biomethane to power the plant. It voluntarily withdrew the project from consideration by the Tulare County Planning Commission after area residents and California Dairies Inc., the state’s largest dairy cooperative, objected. Among their concerns were odor, impact to air or water quality and possible contamination by pathogens. “Every significant professional or regulatory authority on digesters says the technology improves air and water quality,” Daryl Maas, project manager for Pixley Biogas says. “If the perception is out there that this project will do the opposite, then we don’t want to proceed without getting our neighbors’ support.”

Lyle Schlyer, president of Calgren Renewable Fuels is surprised at the opposition to the digester. 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 convinced, as the ethanol producer is, that an anaerobic digester would actually be a positive for the community. “We just got sideways I think on this one,” he says.

All hope is not lost, however. In early July the California Energy Commission committed to a $4.68 million matching grant for the project, despite local opposition. Pixley Biogas and Calgren will continue to negotiate with the county in the next few months.

“We’re not giving up, Mass said. If the plant receives local approval to build the anaerobic digester, it will pump liquid manure from a nearby dairy and haul in additional manure solids from other dairies. The resulting biogas will reduce natural gas needs at the ethanol plant and also result in clean fiber bedding for cattle and a pathogen-free liquid fertilizer. 

—Holly Jessen