Regulations Hindering Digester Development in California

July 3, 2011 11:10 PM

Despite the difficult hurdles it’s faced building its digester system, California dairy is praised as ‘an environmental hero.’

Source: Western United Dairymen Weekly Update

California’s Fiscalini Farms held a special event June 29 to thank the many partners who helped make its methane digester system a reality, but several speakers pulled no punches in pointing out the many regulatory hurdles facing digester development in the San Joaquin Valley.

Modesto-based Fiscalini Farms started work on its digester system more than three years ago, said owner John Fiscalini.

“I expected to be among the first to be finished, and now I’m the only one who has completed a system of this type,” Fiscalini said. “Very few people are willing to follow in my footsteps.”

The reason for the delay is clear, said Fiscalini. “Regulation, additional regulation, over regulation, and burdensome regulation,” he said. “I believe there are a few regulators who would like to regulate the regulations.”

The financial toll has been high. Originally estimated at $2 million, the project’s cost is now estimated at $4.5 million. “Economic viability with digesters is something that does not happen,” noted Fiscalini. “What we get for our power is what we pay to produce our power. There is really no return on investment."

Sustainable Conservation, a San Francisco-based environmental group, has been an advocate for the Fiscalini system since the start. Project manager Allen Dusault echoed the concern over regulatory barriers facing this green energy project. “John is an environmental hero,” said Dusault. “John is a person who has stepped up and really done things.”

Outlining the various regulations and conflicting demands from state and federal agencies, Dusault said, “I have never seen such difficult hurdles for anyone to overcome when they are trying to do what the state is asking them to do. As an environmentalist, I have found it really shameful the way the agencies have treated you, John."

Noting he has worked on digester issues for 10 years, Dusault said, “So far we have not been able to reduce the barriers but we’re not going to stop trying.”

Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) was on hand to lend his support to Fiscalini and praise him for his efforts to develop digester technology. “Thank you for your leadership, for being a leader who was willing to make a sacrifice and work through this bureaucracy and work through our government,” Denham said.

Referring to the recent state mandate that utilities provide 33% green energy by 2020, Denham said, “If we’re going to have 33% renewable energy, it will be ag that leads the way. You’ve got my commitment that I will try to get government out of our lives so we can succeed as an industry and promote more jobs here in California.”

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