With skyrocketing crude oil prices much of the nation’s attention has turned toward alternative fuels. While many people are focused on ethanol production, one small town is looking at turning waste from humans and hogs into electricity. In a few months, the town will break ground on a 10-million dollar processing plant. It hopes to become the first town in the nation to run completely off renewable resources. The GLRC’s LaToya Dennis reports:
With skyrocketing crude oil prices much of the nation’s attention has turned toward
alternative fuels. While many people are focused on ethanol production, one small town
is looking at turning waste from humans and hogs into electricity. In a few months, the
town will break ground on a 10 million dollar processing plant. It hopes to become the
first town in the nation to run completely off renewable resources. The GLRC’s LaToya
To get where we’re going, you have to pass through small town after small town and
acres and acres of cornfields. Reynolds, Indiana is a farm town of about 500 people. It’s
hard to find on most maps. And it’s pretty easy to overlook. After all, there’s only one gas
station and three restaurants. But what Reynolds is doing is hard to overlook. Charlie
Van Voorst has lived there for a long time and is now the town president. He says the town is
going to provide its own electricity and it’s not going to burn fossil fuels like coal or
“Town board meetings went from talking about the neighbor’s dog in your yard to now
talking about million dollar decisions about what we’re building.”
What the town of Reynolds is building is a new power plant powered by the by-products
of the surrounding farms, chiefly, pig poop. The plant will use technology to pull
methane and other gases from animal and human waste. The gases will then power
engines and steam turbines. Coming out on the other end is electricity, and leftover solids,
which can be used for fertilizer.
(Sound of pigs)
Within just a few miles there are around 150 thousand pigs. That makes for a lot of
“Well, this is the bacon.”
Bill Schroeder is a local pig farmer. He’s standing in the middle of a thousand hogs.
They’re about knee high and weigh around 300 pounds each. They’re constantly eating
“It don’t smell to me, does it smell to you. When you walked in here, did you smell?”
Actually, it did smell, but Schroeder thinks it smells like money. He says he’s willing to
give the waste his pigs produce to the town to turn into electricity. After the waste is
processed, farmers will get a higher quality fertilizer back for their fields. But Schroeder
says some farmers still might hesitate because they’re not being paid for their pig waste.
“There should be return. Anytime you invest money, you expect a return. I mean if
you’ve got a CD in the bank you expect a return on that CD. It’s no different from
investment in machinery, hog buildings or anything else.”
Obviously, some of the financial incentives still have to be worked out, but Reynolds
town officials say there are good reasons besides money to take the town off the existing
power grid. Right now, Reynolds gets its energy from coal. That puts a lot of carbon into
the air. Methane processing produces less carbon dioxide than coal.
Jody Snodgrass is managing director for Rose Energy. That’s the company building the
processing plant. He says the project has another environmental benefit. It reduces the
amount methane from pig manure that’s released into the atmosphere because it’s
captured and used to make electricity.
“The increase of methane causes increased cloud formation. Also causes decreased ozone
layer and basically contributes to global warming as does carbon dioxide and several
other compounds. And if you can reduce those or eliminate those, that obviously is a plus
for the environment.”
That’s the reason the town of Reynolds is getting the support of the state in its effort to
become energy independent. Although everyone’s not on board yet, town president Charlie Van
Voorst is excited about what’s to come. He says small town farming communities haven’t
seen a development this big in more than 100 years:
“Oh, my goodness. Since I’ve grown up, golly. I suppose you could talk about the –
something to this magnitude would be when electricity came into our community.”
Town officials hope Reynolds is powered by pig poop and other alternative fuels by
2008. They say if things go well, their town could become the model for other small farm
towns across the country.
For the GLRC, I’m LaToya Dennis.
HOST TAG: This piece was originally produced for NPR’s Next Generation