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Maryland renewable waste company could solve a nutrient problem in Sussex County

Katie Young
Delaware Center for the Inland Bays

Environmentalists worry using poultry litter as fertilizer is a source of pollution for Delaware’s waterways, but a Maryland renewable waste company wants to take that litter and convert it into energy.

CleanBay Renewables is seeking approval from the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission Thursday to build a facility that would process about 90,000 tons of Sussex County poultry litter and produce 9.6 megawatts of energy per year. The company would bring about 10 to 12 trucks of poultry liter to their facility daily.

The facility, which is proposed about four miles south of Georgetown, would heat up chicken waste to break it down and separate the methane and phosphorous from the manure, said CleanBay’s outreach coordinator Andy Hallmark. That process is called anaerobic digestion.

The methane-free product would benefit nearby farmers.

“It’s rich in nitrogen and potassium, has microbial components that you want from a more organic material, and the farmers can then spread that on their fields,” Hallmark said.

CleanBay plans to sell energy produced on the grid to local utilities that will provide it to customers.

This is Cleanbay’s second planned nutrient recovery facility on Delmarva. They’re building another in Westover, Maryland, and will have several others in the works after the Georgetown one.

The company last came before the Sussex commission seeking approval for the facility over the summer. Residents liked the plan, but were concerned about heavy traffic near the original location on Route 9 in Georgetown, so CleanBay revised its plan, moving the facility to a more remote location four miles south of town.

“We think we found a location that addresses the concerns and feel like the technology we suggested is a very legitimate answer to a pretty serious waste stream problem,” Hallmark said.

Some of Delaware's waterways have been plagued by higher levels of phosphorous left in poultry litter that can destroy aquatic habitat - particularly the Inland Bays. Chris Bason, the executive director of Delaware’s Center for the Inland Bays, said phosphorous from agricultural waste causes algae blooms, reduces the abundance of fish and can destroy habitat.

“That phosphorous gets into water, into runoff and through groundwater movement and once it gets into a water body, phosphorous tends to stick around,” Bason said. “We still have a lot of it getting into the bays and a lot of it that’s been in the bays for a long time.”

According to the center’s 2016 State of the Bays report, pollution from 1990-2009 decreased by 407 lbs of nitrogen (82 percent) and 44 lbs (87 percent) of phosphorous per day. The decrease continued between 2009-2015 by about .83 lbs of nitrogen and .71 lbs of phosphorous per day.

Bason said there is still room for improvement. Once the City of Rehoboth Beach stops discharging wastewater into Rehoboth Bay after construction of an ocean outfall pipe finishes in April, Bason says the bays will no longer deal with any pollution sources.

For the rest of Sussex County, CleanBay Renewables could be part of the answer. CleanBay will present its revised plan to the planning commission at 6 p.m. Thursday.

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