Perdue Farms and AgEnergy USA have proposed a $200 million plant on the Eastern Shore to extract energy from chicken manure, offering its plan as a viable remedy for the farm pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay. 

New Hampshire-based AgEnergyUSA met in Annapolis, Maryland, with lawmakers, state officials, environmentalists and farmers, seeking support and legislation worth tens of millions of dollars for their project, the Baltimore Sun reported.

"We think we have a very manageable solution, with our partner Perdue," said James Potter, AgEnergyUSA's president.

The push for the new manure-to-energy project came as the Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration and leading Democrats settled their differences over regulations to curb farmers' use of polluting poultry waste to fertilize their crops.  Environmentalists had long pushed for strict limits to keep the manure from washing off fields into the bay. But farmers resisted, arguing that the costs of disposing of the manure and buying other fertilizer would drive them out of business.

"The timing is perfect," said Potter of his proposal to turn the manure into energy.  "This allows the Eastern Shore to put together a plan for meeting [manure-limiting regulations] without disrupting the economy."

This isn't Potter's first try at a manure-to-energy plant on the shore. Also in partnership with Perdue, he made an unsuccessful bid for a contract to have the state buy electricity from a manure-burning power plant he would have built. The pair lost to a California company, whose project they are now trying to edge out.

This time, Potter's company wants to build an "anaerobic digestion" plant near Salisbury that could handle up to 200,000 tons of chicken litter a year — close to what officials estimate is the excess amount being spread on the shore each year.

The plant would use bacteria to extract methane-rich bio-gas for industrial use. The residue would be processed so that the bay-fouling nutrients in chicken waste could be separated and used in a more environmentally friendly manner. The nitrogen could be sold back to farmers as liquid fertilizer, which crops need every year, while the problematic phosphorus that's built up in Shore soils could be shipped elsewhere and sold as peat moss, Potter explained.

Perdue Farms acknowledged that it has signed a letter of intent to work with AgEnergyUSA. The poultry company pledged to furnish chicken litter as well as organic wastes from its processing plants for use in the digestion process. And the company retains the option to market the fertilizer byproducts.

"Environmentally, this project will provide an alternative to land application for a significant amount of poultry litter, eliminating the risk of any portion of the nitrogen or phosphorous in this litter from finding its way into the Chesapeake Bay watershed," said Steve Schwalb, Perdue's vice president for environmental sustainability.

Environmentalists briefed on the project say they like that it would take several times as much phosphorus off the shore as is needed to meet bay cleanup targets.