ECI Nears Poultry Litter Project

WESTOVER -- The Eastern Shore's state prison is closer to manufacturing electricity from chicken manure to supply more than a fourth of the power at the Eastern Correctional Institution, an undertaking that would convert several thousand annual tons of manure and aid in the management of controversial animal waste blamed for polluting the Chesapeake Bay.

The Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved an agreement with EcoCorp of Northern Virginia to build a facility called a thermophilic anaerobic digester on 3 or 4 acres at ECI in Westover that would annually produce 1 megawatt of renewable energy from up to 5,500 tons of poultry litter or up to 8,000 annual tons of energy crops.

The Maryland Environmental Service is facilitating project development of the manure conversion initiative that is expected to be constructed and online by 2013.

The ECI project is the latest renewable energy initiative under way at state prisons across Maryland, said Mark Vernarelli, director of public information at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. ECI, a medium-security prison, has about 3,000 inmates.

The development of a solar farm is under way on state property leased by a private company behind the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown in western Maryland, Vernarelli said.

"Finding renewable energy sources is clearly a big issue in the future, and we're trying to participate any way we can," he said. "The chicken industry is particular to the Delmarva Peninsula, where there are tons and tons of manure to figure out what to do with."

Chris Garrigan, spokeswoman at MES, said the project involving a anaerobic digester system is a first for the firm that operates water and wastewater operations at ECI.

"Anytime you can help the state facilitate a potentially good energy project and handle chicken manure in a way it works for farmers and the Chesapeake Bay, that's good," she said.

The Georgetown-based Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. criticized a Pew Environment Group report released in July that accused the Eastern Shore's poultry industry of contributing significantly to excess nutrients in the pollutant-plagued Chesapeake Bay. According to the Pew report, Delaware and Maryland alone produce roughly 523 million chickens annually, as well as an estimated 42 million cubic feet of litter, volume the organization said could be reduced by limiting the density of animal production.

Bill Satterfield, executive director at DPI, said while the best use of chicken litter is farm fertilizer, the ECI energy project is an additional opportunity for chicken growers to dispose of excess manure.

"As the farm families that grow the chickens have more alternatives on how to handle their litter, there are benefits to them and to society," Satterfield said Wednesday. "Chicken litter's best use is as a farm fertilizer, applied to the land using state-sanctioned, state reviewed Nutrient Management Plans. When land application is not possible, alternatives, such as the one being developed at ECI, can help our industry and our growers."

David Ferguson of MES said in the agreement, the state has established a rate to purchase power generated at ECI for a 20-year period. The ECI initiative also will help Maryland move toward a goal of meeting a Renewable Portfolio Standard that requires 20 percent of the state's electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2011.