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Vermont Launches 'Cow Power' System 400

Posted by timothy
from the excuse-me-are-you-saying-moo? dept.
odyaws writes "Central Vermont Public Service has launched Cow Power, a system by which power users can opt to buy 25, 50, or 100% of their electricity from dairy farms that run generators on methane obtained from cow manure. Cow Power costs only 4 cents/kWh more than market price, so a household like mine would only pay $5-6/month more at 100% usage. The big question now is whether Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream will use power generated from the manure of cows treated with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone."
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Vermont Launches 'Cow Power' System

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  • Re:Global Warming? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:23AM (#15695887) Homepage Journal
    No, it doesn't, because the carbon was recently removed from the atmosphere by the growing of the plants that the cows ate to produce the, um, fuel. OTOH, when we burn oil, we're bringing up carbon that was taken out of the atmosphere millions of years ago, and putting it back into the atmosphere instead of leaving it in the ground. The only way this isn't closer to carbon-neutral than burning oil is if the cow manure that is going to be burned for power would otherwise be buried deep underground, which I kind of doubt would happen.
  • Re:New math? (Score:3, Informative)

    by tibike77 (611880) <tibikegamezNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:44AM (#15695954) Journal
    One PC operating most of the day (monitor operational say 12h/day, etc) easily "eats" in excess of 1500 kWh/year.
    Consider also having a few light bulbs on 4-6 hours a day, a fridge, a washing machine, a refrigerator and so on and you easily get to more than 3000 kWh/year while living alone.

    A typical house(hold) of 4 would easily be consuming 500 kWh per month, if not more if you don't bother restraining power usage (power-saving lightbulbs, etc).
  • Re:Global Warming? (Score:3, Informative)

    by AJWM (19027) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:06AM (#15696008) Homepage
    While definetly greener than burning oil this still contributes as much to global warming? Right?

    Wrong.

    First, you're assuming that greenhouse gases are a significant contributer to global warming. This is not proved, beyond the obvious fact that without any greenhouse effect at all the average temperature of Earth would be around freezing. There is nothing to prove a causal relationship between elevated CO2 levels and warming. Indeed, it could be that warming (perhaps caused by increased solar output) has increased CO2 levels (warmer water holding less dissolved CO2, etc).

    Second, even if greenhouse gases were causing global warming, you're assuming that the combustion products of methane (H2O and CO2) are significant greenhouse gases. In fact, methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2 is. Water is actually a stronger greenhouse gas than either by about an order of magnitude, but burning methane (or fossil fuel, for that matter) doesn't significantly add to the atmosphere's H2O load because that's pretty much in equilibrium anyway, between 75% of Earth's surface being open water and the fact that it frequently precipitates out.

    That said, reducing dependence on foreign oil is worth doing for other reasons, as is reducing dependence on any fossil fuel as an energy source (waste of a good chemical feedstock).
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:29AM (#15696057) Journal
    Colorado requires the local utulity to sell wind and solar. They entered into agreements for all the power long ago. Now, the company is going to charge .1 more/watt than the oil does or the true costs of the energy, whichever is higher. But none of the extra will go to the alternative. IOW, they are not providing incentives to the generator.

    Just like the monopoly for the net, we have issues with how we handle power distribution and generation.
  • by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @02:28AM (#15696186) Homepage
    Two points:

    1. I somehow doubt that there is enough cows even in Vermont to supply the manure needed for all the state residential power consumption.
    2. There is one major problem with Biogas - it has a very high sulphur content. It will be interesting how did they get around this. 'cuse if they did not the environmental cost of this will be enormous.
  • A small correction (Score:3, Informative)

    by tlambert (566799) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @06:12AM (#15696642)
    A small correction; Chernobyl happened because of very bad reactor design (the four reactors were RBMK reactors). It was inherently unstable. because it used water moderation, and as the water converted to steam, it had a runaway power increase (this is called a positive void coefficient), leading to the steam blowing the top off the building.

    Reactors don't have to be built that way, and not all designs are intrinsically risky. For example, a Pebble bed reactor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor [wikipedia.org] can't melt down, and is self-moderating due to neutron dopplering.

    Even so, Japan, the only country which has ever had an atomic bomb dropped on it by a foreign power, has a lot more to fear from nuclear energy than the U.S., and they have 23 breeder reactors and 30 other reactors that commercially generate a little over 25% of Japans total electrical needs. Their current plans are to increase this by 30% by 2011 as part of their compliance with the Kyoto accords on CO2 emissions.

    -- Terry
  • Re:Uhh... (Score:5, Informative)

    by mike77 (519751) <mraley77@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @07:58AM (#15696941)
    But I would much rather see my energy dollars go towards efficient renewable energy like solar or nuclear than the dairy farmer and his mansion down the lane.

    Being from Vermont, I think you have a skewed view of dariy farmers (in VT). I don't know about where you're from but most of the dairy farms here are small family owned business that have been operating for generations, and out of all of the ones I know, NONE of them have mansions. They all have small family farms, work long hours for low income and constantly worry about being able to do it again next year. They do it because they've always done it, because they love it, and its a vermont way of life. They don't do it to get rich, they do it to keep Vermont's agriculture industry alive.

    What I see is a local family owned farm which was suffering the same fate as most of the other farms in the state (1-2 bad years from being broke and out of business) finding a unique way to increase their income (and be sustainable, hey novel idea), provide "green-power" in the state where there is a huge demand for it, and be kind to the environement.

    These people don't own mansions, these people work hard, bust their ass all day long, and continue a tradition dating back generations, while at the same time doing good for the state, and the environment.

    Now, it may not be efficient, but it is a good use of what was being wasted before. What exactly is the problem you have w/ it again?

  • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:38AM (#15697138)
    Way to go... let's marginalize every single attempt to seek out alternative power sources. This way we can be married to oil for that much longer. Look on the bright side.. your kids get to see the middle east.

    All the same...

    There are questions worth asking:

    Methane gas has been killing american farmers for generations. Fatalities Attributed to Methane Asphyxiain (in) Manure Waste Pits -- Ohio, Michigan, 1989 [cdc.gov]

    The up-front costs for the farmer can be huge. From Waste to Profit [retrobbs.org] (1988)

    If I were the cynical Yankee, I'd be asking why, if Vermont Power really believes in Cow Power, it isn't bulding economical centralized facilites for waste collection and processing under more controlled comditions.

  • by w1ras (988145) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:40AM (#15697151)
    It's actually a very successful program. There are more customers signed up than electricity from that source to supply them.
  • by brianerst (549609) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @11:29AM (#15698360) Homepage
    Any time someone brings up the greenhouse effect as an arguement for alternative energy, the debate over anthropic global warming re-erupts and the issues are forgotten about amidst the flames and political bullshit. Better to simply avoid that debate, leave it for the environmentalists and the neocons to fight it out, and focus on the other issues so that people understand why we need to quit fossil fuels.
    I don't have much of a beef with what you're saying, but I find it funny that whenever someone wants to say "evil Republicans", they use the word "neocon", even when it doesn't fit.

    Many (if not most) neocons are actually very strongly in favor of [time.com] alternative energy. They even drive Priuses [energybulletin.net].

    Now, they generally become boosters of alternative energy for geopolitical reasons rather than environmental ones (they don't want to subsidize Middle Eastern kleptocracies), but most of them are happy that there are other, pro-environment reasons to do so as well.

    The original neocons were generally are ex-Trotskyites (I'm thinking of Irving Kristol here). The second wave were also ex-liberals or leftists (William Bennett, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, James Q. Wilson - members of the anti-communist left that turned rightward). The primary failings of the neocons are the primary failing of the left in general - they think that the world is perfectable, given enough (love/power/use of force/crystal energy).

    That leads them to do things you may not like (topple bad regimes in a [misguided?] attempt to liberalize them), and others that you may like (push for alternative energy, campaign to eliminate third-world debt). But they're very different from the corporate Republicanism that has historically been most resistant to new energy.

    Now, of course, that they're starting to figure out the angles to make money off alternative energy, you can bet that the corporate Republicans will rapidly become "green". That may not be ideologically "pure", but it sure beats the alternative...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:13PM (#15699223)
    exactly. What I don't understand in the US is how we as Americans can NOT think of the future. If I could afford one, I'd buy a hybrid, not because I believe I'll make this *huge* difference. But it's like the public good such as parks and libraries (environment, mother earth and all that jazz). If no one contributes back to it then they'll just rot. Look at the brand newly built libraries in your area, and then go to the one that's been around for 30-40 years. You can tell whether or not a community cares about the future of their education by the $$$ they put into it. I'm a librarian, and I can tell you with certainty that if you ask these questions in a funding support survey you'll get a lot positive support.
    "Do you wish to see the library to provide better facilities?"
    "Do you wish to see the library update and provide more access to information technologies such as computers and Internet access?"
    but guess what? if you have just a minority of opponents who show up to the library commission meetings and city hall, then you won't get the support. I know because at a certain library I know and love, they are always the same people who show up. And what is worse is these people have the majority voice because even though there are more proponents to library support, they never ever show up.
    The same goes for the environment and alternative energy sources. The same people who argue against these are the minority, (not because they are insane, but because they have their own reasons. When the $$$$$ of oil goes up, you'll see more and more support.
    In the US we're spoiled because we are still cheaper than most nations. Except Venezuela, where the price of oil cheaper than water (my brother in law fills up an SUV for $5). But that freakish socialist country run by that nutjob Chavez is a completely different problem.

    ps: For those Chavez fans, please meet some Venezuelans (especially educated middle class backgrounds) before praising him.
    One patron of mine was insistant that he was the equivalent of Franklin D. Roosevelt! While his policies are good for the poor,
    let us not forget he is also a military fascist and that country is as corrupt as ever.

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