Hog farmer cleared to build methane-fueled power plant

September 29, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Algis J. Laukaitis, Lincoln Star-Journal: A Nebraska state board on Tuesday gave Colfax County farmer Danny Kluthe a green light to build a methane-fueled power plant on his hog farm and sell the electricity.

The Nebraska Power Review Board, citing an attorney general's opinion, said it did not have the jurisdiction to approve or deny Kluthe's application, so he can build and operate the plant if he meets the certification requirements set by the Public Utility, Regulatory Policies Act.

The 1978 federal law promotes the development of alternative energy sources such as wind turbines and methane generation plants, as a way of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Kluthe wants to build an 80-kilowatt plant that would convert tons of manure produced by about 6,000 hogs into methane gas, which would then be burned as fuel for a generator. He would then sell the electricity to Nebraska Public Power District.

NPPD is backing the project to expand its renewable-energy portfolio. The Columbus-based utility also wants to use it as a pilot project to encourage other farmers to use the technology.

Kluthe, who believes the plant would be the first of its kind in Nebraska, said the board's decision was timely considering the current energy climate.

"I think we should all get behind renewable energy, because it costs a little bit more at first, but then you have it and then you have energy forever because it's renewable," he said in a phone interview.

Kluthe ran into problems with his application because his project conflicted with Nebraska law, which does not allow independent generators such as Kluthe to build such plants. However, independent operators are encouraged by the federal act to build renewable energy projects.

The board asked Attorney General Jon Bruning to look into the issue and its impact on Nebraska electric utilities. Board members also wanted to know whether they had the authority under state law to consider applications such as Kluthe's.

The attorney general answered that the provisions in the federal act pre-empted Nebraska law. Tim Texel, the review board's executive director, said the opinion basically means that the board does not have jurisdiction over small power production facilities such as Kluthe's if they qualify under the federal act.

Texel said farmers or small- business people who want to build renewable-energy projects that meet federal requirements don't have to file an application or get board approval. However, they must show the board they have qualifying status under the federal act or get certification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The board did not act on Kluthe's application at Tuesday's meeting, which was held in Hastings. Texel said he will contact Kluthe or his attorney.

"If he shows us he qualifies under federal law, we are out of the picture and he can proceed with the project," said Texel.

He said that anyone who builds such projects still has to meet safety and interconnection requirements set by their local utilities.

Kluthe said he plans to start work immediately and hopes to be generating electricity by Christmas.

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