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Plateau farms are turning poop into power

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Cow poop is changing the world – or at least making it a little greener. Every time ol’ Bossy messes up the barnyard, she’s taking us one step (one careful step, oops!) into a future of renewable energy. Got manure? If so, you could be an energy entrepreneur. Or should I say, “entre-maneur?”

It all sounds a little goofy, and a little overly fragrant, but cows – ordinary, cud-chewing dairy bovines – could be a key to our energy future. Here in the Puget Sound area farmers, environmentalists and we electric-utility types are getting together to take what once was at best a fertilizer (and at worst, a source of nasty smells and runoff) and turn it into clean, renewable power.

So how does it work? Here’s where a wise reader stops eating breakfast, lunch or dinner and simply focuses on this fine newspaper. The first step is to warm the manure to about 100 degrees and let Mr. Microcrobe get busy and start breaking down all that Bossy leaves behind. As this happens, methane is released. In the pasture, this process isn’t so good, as methane is actually a greenhouse gas. However, when you do this all in a big gizmo called an “anaerobic digester” the methane can be used to run a power generator, turning cow pies into cow power.

Waste now becomes clean, renewable energy and, as a side benefit, the rest of what’s left still makes a good fertilizer and also an environmentally-friendly animal bedding. Plus, instead of paying to get manure hauled away, farmers get paid to have the poop scooped with green jobs created at the power plant. That’s good for the climate, good for our energy independence and good for the family farm.

Sounds great, but I’m guessing your neighbors might not want you bringing home a herd of Holsteins. Fortunately, you can tap into all this manure power by becoming a Green Power Program participant by calling the PSE Energy Advisers at 1-800-562-1482 or going to PSE.com. You can have 100 percent of your power go to support green energy, or just a portion.

We can’t bring the actual cow-power electrons to your house, but your support gets more renewable energy plants built faster in our area by creating a market for alternative power sources. Our Green Power program is audited by the Center for Resource Solutions, which checks to see that for every kilowatt you use, we have to buy a kilowatt from a dairy digester, wood-waste biomass generator, solar facility or wind power plant here in the Pacific Northwest. All of this is separate from – and in addition to -- what PSE is doing to expand its own wind facilities here in Washington. Subscribing to Green Power just gets more clean energy onto the grid, more quickly.

Next time you have glass of milk, give a toast to Bossy for bringing renewable energy to the grid. Then, give us a call and tap into some of that cow power yourself. You, too, could be an “entre-maneur.”

Andy Wappler is a senior public relations manager at Puget Sound Energy. He looks forward to hearing from you at AskAndy@PSE.com.

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