Power plant idea is `alive'

Failure to win tax credits from legislature not fatal

April 12, 2001|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

FibroShore still hopes to build an electric power plant fueled by chicken litter on Maryland's Eastern Shore despite the legislature's failure to approve tax credits to help finance the project.

"It's a good project and it's still alive," Del. Rudolph C. Cane, a Wicomico County Democrat, said of the 40-megawatt plant, which is to burn a mixture of sawdust and chicken manure known as litter. The plant could supply a city the size of Frederick.

Cane introduced legislation that would have provided tax credits to utility companies buying electricity from the FibroShore plant.

Though it costs more to produce electricity from chicken litter than fossil fuel, the proposed plant would rid the Eastern Shore of excess chicken manure, which is suspected of polluting the Chesapeake Bay, says FibroShore, the U.S. subsidiary of a British company, FibroWatt Ltd.

Cane later withdrew the bill, which he called "complicated and confusing," when he felt there was not enough time for lawmakers to fully understand the potentially costly proposal.

The House Ways and Means Committee deferred the legislation to summer study.

"FibroWatt is still interested in the project," Cane said. "This project has great potential and it's very much needed."

FibroWatt has been operating two plants fueled by chicken litter in eastern England for three years.

The major drawback of the tax credit bill was its cost, said Patrick McMillan, a legislative assistant to the state agriculture secretary.

In a fiscal impact study, the Department of Legislative Services estimated that a plant or plants generating 60 megawatts of electricity would cost the state $422.2 million in lost revenues over 21 years.

William R. Miles, a spokesman for FibroShore, said the state funds would be repaid once the $125 million cost of constructing the power plant was repaid.

McMillan said poultry processors also strongly oppose the FibroShore project. The primary opponent is Perdue Farms Inc., whose $12 million plant near Blades, Del., is expected to turn chicken litter into fertilizer pellets for Midwestern farms.

The concern is that there isn't enough chicken litter to supply both projects, he said.

Sponsors of the tax credit legislation included House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.; Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; and Del. Ronald A. Guns, chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee.

In a related development the state Public Service Commission yesterday approved a poultry company's plans to build a similar, but much smaller power plant near Hurlock.

Allen Family Foods wants to build a 4-megawatt plant that would burn 40,000 tons of chicken litter a year to generate steam and electricity. Allen would use some of the electricity to run its poultry processing plant and sell the rest to the region's electrical grid.

The proposed project is opposed by Hurlock residents who argue that it represents a risk to the environment.

In other agriculture related legislative issues, McMillan said lawmakers approved the use of $30 million in general obligation bonds to help pay for the state's buyout of tobacco farmers.

McMillan said the state had planned to use 5 percent of the money it will get from its settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies to pay farmers.

"But that wasn't enough," he said. "The governor did not want any tobacco grower interested in taking the buyout turned away," said McMillan.

He said lawmakers also passed a bill that reduces from 100 acres to 50 the minimum acreage a farm needs to qualify for a preservation program.

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