With rolling blackouts and soaring energy costs affecting everyone in the state, California joins the ranks of states looking to dairy cows to help ease the energy crunch.

A group of state agencies put on a one-day energy forum in Tulare County last Friday with conservation and methane digester systems being two of the big topics of discussion. Gray Davis, Governor of California, has signed a bill that allocates $10 million to help defray the cost of building methane digester systems in the state. The bill reportedly will pay farmers 25 percent of the cost of installing the systems.

In addition, some of the 300 dairies located in Tulare County have been discussing ways to pool their manure at a collection site and turn it into methane gas that could be used to power turbines to generate electricity.

Last month, state officials in Washington approached the dairy industry about using manure to fuel their electrical needs. The state normally derives up to 70 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric plants but has just experienced one of its driest winters ever.

One of the reasons for increased interest in methane production is that methane plants can be built in a fraction of the time and for less cost than traditional energy plants.