Friday, February 17th, 2012
By Nancy Allen
Bill for digesters, algae farming going to Kasich
  A bill that would make it easier for farmers to build manure digesters and algae growing facilities on their land is closer to becoming law.
The Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday agreed to amendments in House Bill 276, which unanimously passed in the Senate on Tuesday. The bill broadens the definition of agriculture to include algaculture (algae farming) and anaerobic digesters. Gov. John Kasich has 10 days to sign it into law. The bill was introduced in the Ohio House, which passed it unanimously in December.
State Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, one of the bill's sponsors, said the legislation would help livestock farmers turn a liability (manure) into an asset.
"It sets the stage to reduce land application of manure, which can ultimately cause more runoff into waters, streams and lakes," said Buchy, who represents Mercer County. "Using the products we have available at our farms will solve problems that occur when there is a shortage of storage for farm byproducts, hence assisting farmers with manure management programs."
If the bill becomes law, agriculture land owners would not have to go before a local zoning board to have their land rezoned industrial to build a digester, a hurdle that thwarted the construction of a digester at state Route 219 and U.S. 127 near Coldwater last year. Farmers also would get a tax break on land where the facilities would be built.
Real estate taxes would be assessed to landowners with algae farming and anaerobic digester facilities based on the state's Current Agriculture Use Value (CAUV), which taxes farmland on its production rather than the generally higher, fair market value.
Quasar Energy Group of Cleveland was awarded a $1 million grant in August to pursue a methane digester in the Grand Lake area. Company officials told The Daily Standard in December they were waiting for a property owner to step up with a site.
"We have narrowed down some locations," Quasar spokeswoman Caroline Henry said this morning.
Henry said the company continues to review the list of potential properties and will have an update soon.
Anaerobic digesters use inputs such as manure, food waste, grass clippings and crop residue to produce methane that can be converted to electricity or compressed natural gas (CNG), an alternative motor vehicle fuel. The bill stipulates that at least 50 percent of the waste put into the digester must be produced on the farm where the digester is located. Farmers could use anaerobic digesters as a part of their nutrient management plans.
In algaculture, algae can be turned into fuels, plastics, pharmaceuticals and other products.
Amendments added to the bill in the Senate include the creation of a legislative task force to study the use and impact of anaerobic digesters, including how they are regulated in other states; their environmental impact; and how state laws governing them affect agriculture, residents and local government; and a stipulation that a digester not produce more than 17,060,710 British thermal units (BTUs) of methane, five megawatts of electricity or both. If more BTUs or megawatts are produced than stipulated, the facility would be subject to local zoning board approval.
Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, the bill's other sponsor, lauded the plan to form the task force and said the legislation would create jobs.
"The creation of an anaerobic digester task force will allow policy makers to continue shaping a public policy to benefit farming opportunities that help the environment," he said. "The potential for the expansion of the digester industry and algae industry in this state is expansive."
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