scorecardresearch Skip to main content
talking points

Running on fumes

One new industry’s future in Massachusetts could depend on piles of cow manure, an endless stream of food scraps, and some help from the State House.

There’s no shortage of bull poop around here. Or leftovers, for that matter. But that third piece, the one involving the Legislature — that’s uncertain right now.

I’m talking about biogas, known to science types as anaerobic digestion, which turns fumes from rotting trash into electricity. When state officials in 2014 mandated many businesses to recycle food waste instead of discarding it, the thought was that the rules would help fuel a new industry.

So much for that goal.

Only a handful of anaerobic digestion plants have sprung up. The leader is Wellesley’s Vanguard Renewables, with three plants built already and a fourth one underway in Haverhill. Vanguard chief John Hanselman says future facilities aren’t financially feasible because caps on “net metering” credits -- the way you get reimbursed for sending excess power onto the grid -- have been hit yet again throughout much of the state.

Hanselman plans to team up tomorrow with several farmers to testify in favor of legislation that would allow these plants to get full net metering reimbursements. Farmers love these facilities: They use manure microbes to turn the trash into gas, save on monthly utility bills, and convert the sludge into fertilizer.

Hanselman says about 2,800 tons of food waste should be recycled in the state every day, although less than a quarter goes to anaerobic digestion or composting. The vast majority, he says, improperly ends up in the trash. But it’s hard to blame the offenders, if they have no place to send the scraps.