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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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  • by humankind (704050) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:14AM (#15695848) Journal
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:21AM (#15695875)
    humankind can be a real jerk.
  • New math? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chuckfee (93392) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:21AM (#15695877)
    $0.04 per kwh on top of the regular rates is about 50% higher.
    I think someone misplaced a decimal point. I use about 1500
    kwh per month. This extra cost would be $60 per month, not $6.

    It would be cheaper to pay farmers not to farm than to come
    up with kooky schemes like this that pay them twice - once for
    their crazy milk subsidies then again to get rid of the methane
    gas that it produces.

    We might as well run power plants fueled by combusting dollar bills.
  • Why pay more ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tibike77 (611880) <tibikegamez@yahoo.COLAcom minus caffeine> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:23AM (#15695884) Journal
    Ok, I get the whole "pay a bit more because it's a GoodThing(TM)" concept, but as a marketing strategy it stinks (forgive the pathetic pun).

    So let me get this straigth: you (the consumer) enrols to receive a percentage of your "power" from these guys (up to 100% only from them), and all your money (including the extra 4 cent per kWh, no idea how much the actual price per kWh you have, but I personally pay only about 10-15 cent per kWh, so an extra 4 cent would increase my bill easily by 30% or more) and only "markert price" (no idea how that much that is, but definetely way less than what you get charged as end-user) goes directly to the "manufacturer".

    In other words, you basically just make a donation to the "cow power" people, but a donation that's not regarded as donation per se (well, it doesn't specify that, I was just assuming).
    So what's stopping you from just using regular power and donating as much $$$ as you want directly to the people involved ?
  • by Aranth Brainfire (905606) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:32AM (#15695911)
    Calculations, done correctly:

    20 dollars = 2000 cents
    2000/500 = 4 cents per kwh. Which then goes to the farmers.

    40%? Where?
  • by megaditto (982598) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:39AM (#15695939)
    A 200W PSU for a computer will consume 144 kWh per month. Just that comp alone would cost $6 extra to run.

    Given that the submitter "odyaws" reports his electricity usage at about 150 kWh/month, that puts him smack in the middle of cheap-ass mom's basement dwellers.

    Either the guy is blowing smoke outta his ass about the true cost, or he's the kind of guy that runs AC off the street lamp.

    Average American person sucks up over 700 kWh/month. Traditional successfull 'geek' household (decent AC, two-car heated garage, freezer/fridge, range/microwave, CCTV, plasma in the basement, gadgets, 24/7 computers, VAX cluster (winter heating), wireless, hot tub) will eat up 10,000 kWh easily.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:47AM (#15695965)
    Unfortunately, there's a good chance that we'll run out of oxygen before we run out of oil.
  • by RsG (809189) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:57AM (#15695990)
    What to quit smoking? Smoke all the cigarrettes in your current pack right now. After all, the more you smoke, the faster they run out, right?

    I'll leave aside the global warming debate (which will only bring flames) and focus on the economic and technological side of things. Depending entirely on a problematic, finite fuel source and saying to ourselves that "we'll quit when it becomes neccesary, and not a moment sooner" is essentially procrastinating and pretending the problem isn't there.

    The simple facts are:
    1) We have a finite supply of easily tapped oil. We have larger, but still finite supplies of less easily extractable sources of oil (like tar sands).
    2) Our demand for the aformentioned oil is increasing.
    3) We have no oil eqivalents yet that can take it's place. Nuclear isn't good for small vehicles. Solar/wind/hydro/etc are good for local power generation and little else. Fuel cells require either hydrocarbons or cheap electricity.
    3) We will need to find another source of fuel eventually, whether in 10 years or 50.

    None of these are in dispute, right? Unlike global warming, there isn't even any debate in the oil industry, much less the scientific world. All of these facts are easily demonstrated.

    Now given that, why on earth would we wait til we've used our exisitng oil supplies up? For one thing, we do use oil for a lot more than just fuel, so we don't want to run out too soon even if we do develop a non-fossil fuel alternative. For another, we already have the technology to start tackling this problem now, even if it'll take years to completely kick the habit.

    Waiting until we're almost out is a recipe for disaster. It's akin to quiting smoking once you've started coughing up blood. What if it runs out on us and we're still 10 or 20 years away from having a viable plan B? Do you really think a massive economic recession in the future is better than a taking a few expensive steps in the right direction today?

    Saying "use more oil, the more you use the quicker it runs out" is ridiculous and irrational. I honestly hope you were joking, but even if you are, I've seen plenty of other people express the same idea as a serious solution. Complacancy is an extremely bad idea when you can see a disaster coming.

    And like I said, all of the above is true regardless of global warming or the environment.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:06AM (#15696009) Homepage Journal
    The average American household uses 5KW across the year. Since heating that two car garage is helping keep America dependent on foreign oil, seems to me that whining about $6 a month to run on local energy is cheapass. Especially while Americans are paying around $3 a gallon for gas in cars that get an average 22MPG, less than 10 years ago.
  • Re:Why pay more ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot.kadinNO@SPAMxoxy.net> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:06AM (#15696010) Homepage Journal
    Because unlike just writing some farmer a check, this actually encourages/ensures that they're doing something environmentally important with the money. (Or something that you, the theoretical buyer of said power, thinks is environmentally important.)

    If I want to encourage certain behavior -- in this case, the use of Green power -- it makes more sense for me to pay you to do that behavior, than it does for me to just give you some cash for being yourself.

    So yes, it's basically a donation to a bunch of farmers, but it's a donation to a bunch of farmers in return for doing something that assumedly you think is important (if you're participating).
  • Re:Dirty Fuel? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aprilsound (412645) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:22AM (#15696044) Homepage
    Burning methane is better than letting it escape. See [wikipedia.org] Burning methane produces 1 CO2 molecule per molecule methane, but methane is 23 times worse as a greenhouse gas.

    Also, its methane obtained from cow manure. I imagine the farmers keep the cow manure and uses to fertilize the grass.

  • by Firehed (942385) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:34AM (#15696081) Homepage
    Well in case you're not familar with the area, Vermont used to be something like 95% farmland in area that wasn't forested. We're losing that out to relatively large urban development and a huge influx of people to the Burlington area to hit our new array of large chain stores (WalMart, Home Depot, Circuit City, Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc). Less than ten years ago, the only big store in the state was Costco, and that's about 20 miles north of everything else (which is a decent distance in VT, considering how freakin' small we are) and has been there for as long as I can remember. Prior to the development, there used to be nothing more than large open fields with a whole lot of nothing.

    Long story short, you're actually exactly right - we don't want this becoming extremely popular in the area. The simple fact is that we don't have nearly as many cows as we did ten years ago, since it's all done in massive superfarms out west. We've had laws passed that keep the milk prices artifically high just so the few family-owned farms still in business don't go under - they're all operating on razor-thin margins as it is, and many are losing money but stay around out of love for what they do.

    We actually have a fairly large percent of our population that ARE willing to pay more to be green. My neighbors coughed up for a hybrid not for the gas savings (my father did the math pre-Katrina - even at $3.50/gal, you need to drive about 250,000 miles before you break even after the premium over a standard model) but because it's green - they also paid what I'd imagine is a good bit more for an electric lawnmower instead of a gas-powered one. We've voted down at least half a dozen times a bypass that connects all of the largely-retail areas together, simply due to pollution. While we're largely divided on things like the same-sex civil unions, most of the people in my state put the environment before the economy.

    So while the idea may sound like a load of shit to you, the fact is that there wouldn't be enough shit to go around. I hate to be cliche', but this is a perfect example of "if we all do a little, we can all do a lot". Yes, one person using an alternative energy source just makes that person feel good inside, but if we all do it, there's a significant impact. It's not our only alternative idea - we've also looked into using trees in a similar way to a potato-battery (which largely did nothing, one tree had less power than a potato) among several other out-there ideas.

    If we've got a dozen different alternative energy methods out there, and each has just 2% of the population using them, we've gone and shifted a quarter of the country - 75 million people - away from oil. While vehicles do tend to need a standard, there's absolutely no reason for every house in the country to get their power from the same method. And already they aren't. But say that we can make all farms not only self-sufficient but even generate a bit of extra power. It may not do a lot out here where the farms are going the way of the Dodo, but out in the land of megafarms, it could actually make a significant impact. I actually know Jerry's (of Ben and Jerry's) wife and son personally (had class with him, in fact), and I can assure you that it would certainly be a B&J thing to do if they found yet another way to support the local community and do something good for the environment.
  • Re:New math? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plover (150551) * on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @01:40AM (#15696090) Homepage Journal
    It would be cheaper to pay farmers not to farm than to come up with kooky schemes like this that pay them twice

    The point of subsidies such as this is that it may provide incentive to other "green" energy producers to hook up to the grid. My electric co-op offers a similar sort of deal: I can pay a premium for blocks of 100kWh of wind-generated power per month.

    Most of these schemes that I'm familiar with are for otherwise "free" energy: solar or wind power (or now reclaimed methane.) They are trying to offer these producers a limited time subsidy to help offset the startup costs. A 1mW wind generator costs about one million U.S. dollars to get up and running. Unless you get help with the interest up front, it will take quite a while to get that ROI back.

    The radio recently reported that my state, Minnesota, published a paper showing that if windmills were erected at all the economically feasible points in the state, our generating capacity would exceed our current consumption by a factor of fourteen. That would mean total independence from fossil fuels for electric production for a long time to come. Just think what that would do towards stabilizing the price of energy, especially when compared to OPEC's cartel.

    Remember, the "energy industry" isn't a single entity. The electric power companies have no particular love for the oil or coal companies. (Certainly mine doesn't, as it's a member-owned non-profit co-op.) They're business partners, and nothing more. Being forced to constantly raise their rates to compensate for the costs of fuel and seeing no profit from the increased prices has not instilled friendship. If they can do anything to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, it lowers their costs as much as anybody else's.

    Sure, it's "extra" profit for the small energy producers. But it helps reduce dependence on foreign energy, and could eventually replace it at a much more stable price.

  • by megaditto (982598) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @02:15AM (#15696153)
    seems to me that whining about $6 a month to run on local energy is cheapass.


    Try $60/month? At average price of $0.10/kWh, $0.04/kWh bull shit surcharge will result in 140% premiums over what consumers would pay.

    How about you ask your parents how much they are already paying for electricity? I will tell you how much my modest household of two spends: $2000+/year at the current rates in CA; +$0.04/kWh will cost me $60+/month.

    10 years ago, from http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/press/press142.html [doe.gov] :
    * The average household spent $1,338 for energy in 1997. Total annual energy expenditures per household were highest in the Northeast ($1,644) and lowest in the West ($1,014).

    * Electricity accounted for 35 percent of all the energy consumed in U.S. households in 1997


    _____________
    Oh, and Ruby, I like your posts, but why do you keep trolling about Iraq? Someone already told you that if we really needed their oil that badly, you could easily drill through glass!
  • by RsG (809189) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @02:27AM (#15696184)
    Actually, I'm in the "global warming is real, and worth worrying about" camp. Your flame was misdirected, and I can only assume that either you suffer from poor reading comprehension, or that you're so emotionally tied up in the issue that a few trigger words will send you flying off the handle.

    The reason I left it out of my post was to avoid getting drawn into a debate. The usual arguement against doing anything to combat global warming is that doing so would be expensive. If I can show reasons for quitting oil that are economic, ie consequences that'll bite us in the ass whether the polar caps melt or not, then I can avoid any debate based on the costs of switching away from fossil fuels.

    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. It isn't just a matter of the enviroment; relying on a dwindling fuel suppy to support our entire economy without looking for alternatives is moronic. We shouldn't have all our eggs in one basket.
  • Generally, I believe the market is going to sort this problem out. What's the cheapest source of portable energy at the moment? OIL. Is it getting more expensive? YES. As the cost of oil rises, more and more people are looking for acceptable, viable alternatives. Eventually they will be found and implemented to an acceptable level. Has this happened yet? No, because it's not cheap to come up with a complete paradigm shift. BUT, the shift will eventually become economically necessary - barring complete market failure. I'm not ruling market failure out, but considering that renewable and clean and other more healthy forms of energy are becoming mainstream at a slow pace, I'd say market failure is not really a complete given yet.

    If global warming, however, is as dangerous as advertised, well, then we have a market failure. But I don't think gasoline is going to be what causes it.
  • by lisaparratt (752068) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @03:38AM (#15696336)
    And that, along with just a dash of racism, is why it's illegal.

    What a wonderfully long tradition buying laws has...
  • by lisaparratt (752068) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @03:40AM (#15696339)
    Call me a cynic, but I reckon it's because once they're no longer dependent upon anyone else, they're free to force their will and values on all and sundry.
  • by glesga_kiss (596639) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @04:19AM (#15696397)
    It's beneficial already. We're funding corrupt regimes in oil rich countries, and tying our economic prosperity to people who are not our allies.

    Hang on, the oil companies do not give a shit what regimes they prop up. No company or country does, it's all 100% self-interest. The issue here is that the benefit in switching away from oil benefits US not THEM. In fact, we've even propped up these regimes on purely political reasons, e.g. getting rid of a socialist alternative. So it's not going to happen any time soon unless it benefits those who get the decission.

    We are fucked. Enjoy the world while you can, these are the "golden days" we'll look back on. Soylent Green was probably the most likely future-scenario right now; our food growth and distribution are completely married to fossil fuels. The cost of living is so tied to oil prices that the inevitable rise due to increased demand and dwindling supplies will mess our ecconomies up big time.

  • by glesga_kiss (596639) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @04:30AM (#15696418)

    Over here in good old-jock-land, we've been doing this for years. When we are not drinking whiskey we are building hydroelectric dams and wind power farms. Several of the electicity companies offer schemes where you pay a little more for your energy, but get a guarantee that it's coming from green sources.

    It's not the feel-good factor or the money that's important. What matters is that you aren't pissing in your childrens swimming pool.

  • Re:Uhh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by glesga_kiss (596639) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @04:34AM (#15696429)
    I'm all for alternative energy sources but this is a little nuts. Even if it really is only a few bucks more every month, I really don't want to "donate" money to my neighbors who are already pretty well off.

    YEAH! Cos like, the domestic farm industry is litteraly rolling in money, right? In actual fact they need government subsidies and regulation to stay afloat. That's the simple matter of it.

    And if the best you can do is "bad because someone receives money from it", then how the hell do you live your life? Do you mind your oil money going to even richer and textbook-"evil" Saudis?

  • by RsG (809189) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @04:49AM (#15696463)
    While I'm not disagreeing with you on the whole "nuclear is better for the environment than fossil fuels" idea here, I gotta say, you'd have to be batshit fecking crazy to want to use Sr-90 as a fuel source.

    This stuff will give you bone cancer [wikipedia.org]. Not exactly what I'd want to put under the hood of every car in the world, especially when accidents are so common. Plus, there's the whole "spontainiously combusts in the open air" business.

    I'd think you'd get better results using nuclear plants to generate hydrogen from water using high-temperature electrolysis - that way you centralize your nuclear waste and fuel. You wouldn't really want a mini-generator in every home or every car for the reasons listed above, but regulated and properly governed nuke plants have a solid safety record.

    The problem with that of course is it's a huge overhaul of our transportation system.
  • my reservations (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @05:27AM (#15696529)
    This isn't the first time I've seen this. Up in minnesota, we actually received letters giving us the option to use wind power - for more money on the KW-hour of course. What bothers me about all these advertisements for alternative power from utility companies is that they don't give me a business case for paying the extra money to switch to an alternative form of energy.

    Who are they kidding? Why would I want to pay more for energy? One could argue that energy prices will always increase, but what utility companies are asking us to do is to pay extra money on top of already increasing energy prices.

    I say, why not provide us with a sustainable business case? Tell me why I'm paying extra, and what the alternative utilities are going to do to try and eventually be competitive with fossil fuels because - let's face it - if it costs more it's not competitive.

    There may be some immeasurable social benefit, or a measurable ecological benefit, but in the end, if it just plain costs more, then it's not going to make me switch. In my opinion, without presenting the sustainability, profitability, and lowering future of alternative energy to the consumer, all these efforts by utility companies are really just posturing. Tell me why I'm paying the extra money!
  • Re:Global Warming? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @06:03AM (#15696624) Homepage
    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.

    The laws of thermodynamics aren't proved [wikipedia.org] either. Evidence is examined, and tentative theories are formulated. Nothing is proved. Welcome to science [wikipedia.org].

  • by Instine (963303) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @06:17AM (#15696657)
    Generally, I believe the market is going to sort this problem out.

    Just like it sorted out Katrina? This blind faith in the economy is THE biggest problem we face on this issue. Because not only will people keep rationalising doing nothing, using this argument, but also it is seen by so many intelligent people as being a solution. It is not. It is doing nothing. The markets are driven by greedy bankers and speculators. They do like a long bet sometimes, but usually they're after a quick buck. Plus they don't have the expertise to predict the fallout from a slow but final oil crisis. When they do invest in a long term payoff, they want it to be rock solid. When it goes bad, they'll just invest in the next best "stable" investment (copper, grain, water....). They will not switch their vast accounts over to biodeisel.

    The government MUST force the hand of industry, for the betterment of the majority! Such situations are rare, but this one is clear to me.
  • by Ogemaniac (841129) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @06:45AM (#15696730)
    I can and do offset the carbon emissions from my small truck for $50/year, and get all of my energy from green sources (mostly wind and biomass) by paying an extra 1.6 cent/kwhr.

    I am almost completely green for $120 a year. Why aren't you?

    50% of people (and 99% percent of liberals) whine about the environment, and what the government should do to force everyone else (especially big business) to do something about it. 1% do something avoid hypocrisy and do something themselves.

    Join the one percent...
  • by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @07:55AM (#15696919) Homepage Journal
    As others have said, reactors built today won't meltdown even at a rate of "one meltdown per 1000 years". Even if they did, there are far more containment structures in place to prevent it from getting off the plant grounds.

    TMI was the USA scare that got us to pay more attention to disaster scenarios. Even IF we had a Chernobyl type explosion in the states, it wouldn't be the big deal it was in Chernobyl since all nuclear reactors are covered by a pressure rated dome [wikipedia.org]. Basically, they're pre-enclosed in a sarcophagus already.

    Basically, even with Chernobyl you can argue that coal [google.com] has killed more people.

    Nuclear Power deaths: 3 Japanese workers* [umich.edu]
    Chernobyl: 47 workers/accident responders, 9 children died of thyroid cancer, and IAEA/WHO estimate that 9000 more might die of cancer. Please excuse me for not using Greenpeace numbers, as they are both biased and known to exaggerate. 9000, in the last 20 years.

    Let's take a look at coal.
    Wiki says: [wikipedia.org]2004 alone cost China 6,000 workers, though some estimate as high as 20,000. US Coal mining is far safer, with only about 30 deaths/year. Still, we have yet to cover the health effects. 23,600 [earth-policy.org] per year due to air pollution, in the USA alone.

    If you figure 1 nuclear meltdown/worst case disaster every thousand years, that kills the same # as chernobyl, that's an average annual death toll of 9 people. Meanwhile, coal mining in the US kills 30, even if you figure in that pollution controls eventually stops all the air pollution.

    There's a reason I'd love to shut down every coal plant and replace it with a nuclear one. Preferably breeders that allow us to take all the 'waste' piling up around current reactors and burn it as more fuel again.

    *who violated every safety reg in the book, mixing many times the amount of nuclear materials in a steel bucket rather than using the provided shielded equipment meant to do it in limited, but safe, quantities.
  • by Wordsmith (183749) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:12AM (#15697001) Homepage
    Being able to turn to other countries for a valuable resource = good.
    HAVING to turn to other countries for a vital resource = bad.

    It's particulary bad when many of those countries are hostile to America, or could become so at any point. Our Middle Eastern peers aren't likely to shut off our oil supply any time soon - they like those oil profits, and we're an awfully big consumer - but they COULD. Or they could jack up the price to something even more obscene. They could play major havoc with our economy and way of life with very little effort.

    Knowing we have other options would be a good thing.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @11:30AM (#15698366) Homepage Journal
    How about I look at my own electric bill, as I have for decades? In NYC, where I pay $0.09:KWh (the highest rate in the country, I'm told), cow power would cost me 45% more. I haven't said whether I'd buy cow power myself, but I did comment on your own contradiction. Complaining about even $60:mo is cheapass compared to the true costs of petropower - $6 is really cheapass. I'm a cheapass myself, but I'm not criticizing others for being cheapass.

    As for Iraq, there's no trolling. I post to get people to talk about our invasion, think about it for themselves, entertaining the possibility someone will say something I can learn from myself. There's no trolling. As for whether "we" need their oil that badly, the reasons why we invaded that oil tank aren't simply the oil, but all the other things that country has because it has oil. The oil is the basis for the invasion, not merely the spoils of war. We're going to spend over a $TRILLION because of that invasion, even before that oil is tapped by anyone. We've already driven oil profits to unprecedented amounts, over $75:bl without significantly increasing the cost (to the producer) of production. While destroying the credibility of democracy, and creating the kind of theocrat opportunity we made in Somalia, conveniently within Iran's grasp. If we spent all that time, money and personnel on cow power, we'd be a lot richer and more free.

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