A lot of uncertainty
Currently, carbon prices have hit the skids (at $3 per ton or lower) because of all of the uncertainly over what’s going to happen with cap-and trade. In the summer of 2008, carbon was trading at around $8 per ton.
It’s yet to be seen just how much the public will be willing to pay for this, considering the fact that agriculture is responsible for just 8.2 percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions (according to “U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sink [1990-2005], Trends in Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” by EPA). And of that 8.2 percent, just 0.7 percent comes from manure management. Most of the agricultural emissions come from the way the soil is managed.
Martin, of Western United Dairymen, recalls a Swedish delegation that visited California a few years ago. These people had expertise in methane digesters, and Sweden has always been a model for methane-digester success. Two important questions were asked at that meeting:
- Can you make digesters pay by digesting manure only? The Swedish answered “no,” you have to co-digest the manure with other waste materials, such as food waste, restaurant grease, slaughterhouse waste, to make them pay.
- What has made your methane digester program a success? Their answer, “The public will to invest in it.”
“I thought that was revealing,” Martin says.
How much the U.S. public is willing to invest in “green energy” — when it is quite obvious that the cap-and-trade bill will raise expenses for each household, perhaps as much as $1,761 per year — has yet to be seen.
For dairies, it would be better if the legislation attacked the real issue of competition among utilities, which would help people like Dan DeRuyter. Rather than trying to include agriculture, which generates a small portion of the greenhouse gases in this country, maybe the legislation could concentrate on the electric-power and transportation industries that generate a majority of the emissions.
Most dairies don’t want to see their operating costs go up without some corresponding way to offset those costs.