Wisconsin's utility regulator is planning to spend more money on energy projects in rural areas, including a plan to help underwrite the use of systems that convert cattle manure into electricity.
The systems known as manure digesters also help farms manage waste, which has become an increasingly controversial issue in Wisconsin as the size of dairy farms grows, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Wisconsin Public Service Commission officials said they're considering spending up to $20 million on manure digester technology, and will lead efforts to encourage other state agencies to explore the equipment.
Tressie Kamp, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, said she was cautiously optimistic about Thursday's decision. But she emphasized that manure digesters do not, themselves, strip nutrients such as phosphorus from manure.
The nutrients, a key source of fertilizer for crops, can spur algae growth and harm aquatic habitats if used in excess.
University of Wisconsin-Madison soil scientist Carrie Loboski said a separate system should be put in place that would split solids and liquids in manure, which would allow farmers to manage their waste stream and keep excess nutrients from being applied to their soil.
The commission also voted Thursday to authorize at least $7.7 million in funding for solar, wind and geothermal projects around the state that would keep a rebate program in place for energy consumers.