In 2011, Maryland requested proposals through its Clean Bay Power Project for a new 10 megawatt (MW) plant that generates electricity by burning poultry litter, which consists of manure, bedding, feathers and spilled feed. Poultry processing giant Perdue Agribusiness, Inc., in partnership with energy company Fibrowatt LLC, submitted a proposal targeting Maryland’s Eastern Shore, with construction and operating costs estimated at $100 million. If approved, the project would allow Perdue and Fibrowatt to sell its energy to the state despite the well-documented health and environmental hazards of burning chicken litter. Despite concerns that burning poultry litter does not provide clean energy, similar projects have been proposed or are in planning stages in North Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Connecticut and Virginia.
In regions where factory farming is concentrated, too much animal waste is generated for crop fields and waterways to absorb without significantly harming the health of communities and of the environment, despite industry claims that burning litter for energy is a long-term solution for agribusiness’s waste problem. Building new power plants to burn this waste only provides another band-aid for a corporate agriculture system that is environmentally damaging and unfair to farmers and workers. Moreover, such projects are not economically feasible without significant government subsidies. In order to improve the livelihoods of farmers and protect environmental and public health, state lawmakers should shift their attention to the unchecked power of Big Ag and reexamine the policies that have encouraged the transformation of the nation’s farms into factories.