Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Distorting Turkey Waste

Here's an article in The New York Times on burning turkey litter to produce electricity:

A couple of issues have come up with using turkey litter to produce energy. One is that turkey litter is really useful as an organic fertilizer. Therefore many environmentalists and organic enthusiasts don't want turkey litter to be burnt for electricity. This would be a simple problem to solve if not for issue number two.

Electricity produced this way is expensive. Here is how it is made economically viable: "The plant was built by Fibrowatt, a Philadelphia-based company, with financial incentives from the State of Minnesota." So Minnesota subsidizes this plant.

This subsidy makes using turkey litter as an energy source more attractive than alternative uses, such as an organic fertilizer. Without the subsidy, the organic gardeners and farmers would have an easier time bidding the litter away from energy usage and the turkey litter would be much more likely to flow to its most highly valued use. Burning the stuff for electricity may be the most highly valued use for turkey litter, but the with subsidy who knows? Economic calculation has been distorted and society is almost certainly poorer for it.

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