We attended a highly interesting talk by a farmer in front of a group of farmers. He was a dairyman, who with his mother and three brothers, runs a large, highly-respected farm, dairy and milk processing business.
This man was responsible for acquiring and installing a digester of manure created by 650 cows. The digester creates methane gas that fires a generator that makes electricity which is sold to the local public utility district. The generator turns out enough electricity to power 300 homes. The generator has a diesel engine the size of a dump truck.
Pretty impressive, you say? Well, not so fast. He didn’t provide any figures about costs, net profit (electricity bought v. electricity sold to the same utility) or break-even point. This is a matter of great interest to farmers.
He brushed off cost questions by saying the “digester is already paid for. The tax credits paid for it.” Finally, he admitted, “There is no financial return at this time. There is a tax credit for supplying waste to a digester.” So why did the company do this?
The whole animal husbandry industry is labelled as not environmentally friendly, he said. The dairy industry carbon footprint will be reduced by 20 percent under a resolution adopted by the Dairy Association.
His company is also putting up solar panels. IFO knows that the same comments on no financial return, tax credits, discounts and negative publicity, apply regarding solar panels.
He was all over the global warming thing, defending valiantly against polite, but persistent, doubts by most people there. He noted that the digester achieved carbon emission savings representing the removal of 700 cars from the road.
Then, he decided to come clean. Sensing a deep understanding in the audience, he admitted that digesters have to have large dairies to make any economic sense at all. And while 2/3 of all dairies in Oregon are smaller ones, the big ones produce 80 percent of the milk. If the investment tax credits and energy subsidies “go away, there will be no digesters.”
This is one of many ways social engineering costs our society without producing even remotely commensurate rewards.