Is No. 2 a No. 1 energy source?

I read that cow manure is a great source of electricity. What is the status of cow power in Sacramento?

If there was ever a moment to own your roots in this cow town, it’s now. In fact, I rarely don a beret at cocktail parties and pretend I’m from San Francisco anymore. Ever since the Renewables Portfolio Standard (that utility providers rely on 20 percent renewable energy by 2017) turned big electricity’s nostril toward the rich odor of hope, the stank of Interstate-5 south or Interstate-80 west out of Sacramento or friggin’ anywhere around Sacramento swells me up with pride. Methane, cow manure’s greenhouse gas, is easily (but expensively) converted into electricity. This prevents greenhouse-gas emissions and replaces—at least on a small scale—the need for fossil fuel-derived electricity.

As I said, utilities are taking notice of the resource. In August, the California Public Utilities Commission approved PG&E’s contract with Microgy to purchase 8,000 Mcf of pipeline quality, renewable, methane-derived natural gas daily. In other words: cow power.

Dairy farmers can also rig their own farms to run on methane electricity using anaerobic digestors. The process is reportedly simple: Cow manure is amassed, broken down by bacteria in a sealed tank and then heated to create methane for gas pipelines or generator fuel. Leftover fluids can be used as fertilizer and leftover solids can become compost bedding. It’s all renewable all the time.

PG&E’s net metering program allows those farmers to receive credit for regular energy they don’t use. But the account is “zeroed out” every 12 months, meaning he can’t store up credits for years on end. SMUD also has a net metering program that extends to dairies powering themselves through manure-electricity.

Senate Bill 5X allotted $10 million in incentives for dairy farmers to rig their operations to run on manure, but a spokesman for the California Energy Commission said data on the 18 farms that have received incentives is too new and incomplete to shed much light on the result. And Professor Ruihong Zhang of UC Davis is researching the proverbial crap out of an anerobic digester, partially funded by CEC. There you have it. The future stinks—in a good way.