Dairy farmer Ron Koetsier’s 1,200 cows produce roughly 90 tons of manure daily, and for the last three decades, he has tried unsuccessfully to turn the stinky dung into energy to power his 450-acre farm in Visalia.
He installed a nearly $1-million renewable energy system in 1985 that used the methane from manure to create electricity for his farm. In 2002, he replaced that system with newer technology, but he hit a snag when air-quality standards called for expensive retrofits to reduce air pollution; he eventually shut down the system in 2009.
In a few weeks, however, Koetsier’s renewable-energy efforts will get a reboot as a new company replaces his current system with one that is expected to satisfy strict air standards in the highly polluted San Joaquin Valley.
A decade or so ago, dozens of California dairy farmers built million-dollar systems called methane digesters that convert manure into power. Then, unexpected pollution problems, regulatory roadblocks and low rates of return killed most such digester systems, leaving only a handful in operation.
On the afternoon of May 23, a quiet 14-year-old Peach Bottom boy named Cleason Nolt somehow slipped into a liquid manure pit where he was working on a large Kennedyville, Md., dairy farm and died.Cleason’s 18-year-old brother, Kelvin, and 48-year-old father, Glenn, also vanished into the pit.
A family member who drove to the scene that evening after the Nolts failed to respond to cellphone calls found only a parked pickup truck and two tractors, their engines switched on.