PG&E; Buys Dairy's Biogas to Offset Its Own Pollution: A Green Deal for Customers?

dairy cows photo

photo: Chad K via flickr.

I'm a big proponent of green power programs with utilities as an easy way for people to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, provided that the the program actually buys electricity that is fed into the grid. That's not what's going on with a new biogas purchase by PG&E; as part of its ClimateSmart program, which Cleantech is highlighting:PG&E; touts the move its first greenhouse gas emission reduction purchase from a dairy farm. The California Bioenergy livestock methane capture project, to be completed in 2010 at the Bidart Dairy near Bakersfield, will process manure through anaerobic digestion into biogas. This will avert the emissions of an estimate 75,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from methane (more potent, if shorter lived in the atmosphere, than carbon dioxide, remember...).

Which is all great, but what's not so great is that in this particular project the emissions of the electricity PG&E; uses aren't actually reduced in any way.

All the Energy Produced Will Be Used on the Dairy
No electricity is actually produced whatsoever. The biogas is going to be entirely used to offset energy usage at the dairy itself—a good thing to be sure for the dairy (environmentally and financially) but of questionable benefit for participants in the ClimateSmart program.

This isn't to say that I think companies or individuals offsetting carbon emissions though projects that preserve forest, or through afforestation, or even through supporting programs such as California Bioenergy's. These certainly have a place in the fight against climate change. But when you sign up with a green energy program with your utility, it seems to me that you should actually be purchasing electricity generated from renewable sources that is fed into the grid—not just an offset.

Reduce Emissions at the Source First, Offset Second
And then there's the off the cuff comment by the author of the piece which brought this all to my attention, Lisa Sibley,

And it’s not quite as stringent as scaling back on meat consumption. Last year, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Rajendra Pachauri suggested people cut back on eating meat by eliminating it from their diet once a week. Pachauri’s logic was that nearly 20 percent of greenhouse emissions are caused by meat production.

I don't want to read too much into this, but it seems like this linkage is really off the mark. If I was asked what was the better thing to do to reduce my carbon emissions, cut back on meat and dairy consumption just one day a week or pay for an offset of those emissions, I'd recommend the former. Cutting down on the source of emissions itself seems the far preferable thing to asking for a green indulgence after the fact.

Not to mention that cutting back on meat consumption, let alone eliminating it entirely, really isn't a difficult thing to do.

More: PG&E; (press release)

German Town Becomes World's First With Dedicated Biogas Network
Cow Poop -> Electricity: Biogas Project in California
Green Power Programs
5 Good Ways to Get Green Power Into Your Home
How-To: Get Renewable Energy in New York CityGeorgia Residents Aren't Buying Green Power Plans

Related Content on