A New South Wales piggery has become the first in Australia to turn its manure into carbon credits, earning it as much as $150,000 a year.
Blantyre Farms, near Young in the state's south-east, spent almost $1 million on a biogas generator that captures methane from the manure, turns it into electricity and exports it to the national grid.
It has turned the farm's monthly power bill of $15,000 into a $5000 credit.
There is a further windfall from carbon credits awarded to the farm for the greenhouse gas emissions it avoids by capturing and burning the methane.
“The whole purpose for us was to eliminate our electricity bill,” farmer owner Edwina Beveridge said.
“We were lucky that we fit so well into the carbon initiative scheme."
With its 22,000 pigs, Blantyre Farms is the first farm to tap into the government's Carbon Farming Initiative program, aimed at cutting emissions from agriculture.
The government has approved four other projects involving the capture and flaring of landfill methane gas at sites run by LMS Energy. As well as the reduction of methane from piggeries, officials have also certified methodologies for savanna burning and permanent native tree plantings.
“It’s great to have an approved project rather than just the methodology,” said Mark Dreyfus, Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, who attended today’s launch near Young. “We’re expecting it to be the first of many.”
The generator also produces heat used to keep baby piglets warm in their sheds, he said. Brisbane-based Quantum Power developed the technology and built the equipment for the project.
Methane gas has about 20 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Blantyre Farms is burning some 2400 cubic meters of the gas each day, saving the equivalent of 32 tonnes of carbon dioxide, Mrs Beveridge said.
The farm earns about $15 a tonne for each carbon credit, which Mrs Beveridge is keen to sell in case the opposition wins government and scraps the whole scheme. “It would be disappointing if that was taken away,” she said.
Without the credits, the project's payback time would roughly double to three years but would still be worth doing, she said, given the abundance of methane gas to be captured from the effluent pools.
Mrs Beveridge said the accreditation of the project had been slow and bureaucratic, taking since February.
Mr Dreyfus said the Clean Energy Regulator has only had the necessary powers to oversee the scheme since April and that more approvals should be made soon.
A domestic offsets integrity committee is considering a further 40 methodologies with a similar model for dairy farmers capturing and combusting cow mature likely to be approved “within a couple of months”, he said.
Back at the pig farm, Mrs Beveridge had one other beef she would like addressed - that she receives less than 4¢ per kilowatt-hour for electricity sold to the grid, less than that paid to people with solar panels.
“I'd love for us to get the same price. Our electricity is just as clean and green and wonderful as theirs is," she said.