Madison County is poised to be a leader in the green energy movement that is currently sweeping the country. Opportunities abound for projects such as wind power generation, methane digestion, landfill gas utilization, feedstock production for ethanol and power generation, and more. By now many of you have noticed the County’s newest wind farm in the Towns of Stockbridge, Madison, and Eaton. Additionally, work will hopefully soon begin on a project to capture and utilize methane from the County’s landfill to produce electricity. Another area in the green energy arena that Madison County has the potential to excel at is the cultivation of feedstocks used in the production of ethanol or electricity. Although corn is the current focus for large scale ethanol production in the U.S., woody crops such as willow are said to be the real future of the industry. The State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) in Syracuse is a leader in research focused on creating ethanol from woody materials (called cellulosic ethanol) such as forest thinnings and dedicated agricultural feedstocks such as short rotation shrub willows. The process is many times more efficient than the production of ethanol from corn and yields additional lucrative byproducts such as acetic acid. The only two commercial scale cellulosic ethanol production facilities in New York State are planned for Lyonsdale and Rome, both of which are right in our backyard.
Fallow and marginal cropland are excellent places to grow short rotation willow crops. SUNY ESF also has a long established program of research focused on growing shrub willows for use in power generation and now cellulosic ethanol. Madison County has thousands of acres of fallow or marginal cropland that would be extremely well suited to this type of crop. The mucklands in Lenox and Sullivan, many of which are no longer in production, represent one unique example of the area potentially suitable for willow growth in Madison County. The willows are planted as 12 inch cuttings and are cut back (coppiced) after one year of growth. Following coppicing, they are allowed to grow for three additional years, at which point they are harvested and chipped for use in a variety of applications. Fields only need to be replanted every 20-25 years, so it represents a very different cropping system than many of our local farmers are used to. Such a plantation is located off of Harp Road in the Town of Lincoln, and has been used as a research facility for ESF for a number of years. Madison County is a part of a Central New York Consortia that recently submitted a grant proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy to overcome some of the hurdles currently facing larger scale willow production. In addition, we are actively seeking opportunities to involve willing and interested members of the farming community in opportunities to become involved in green energy production. Many Madison County farms could benefit from added revenue (not to mention the environmental benefits) and rural development that could come from opportunities to grow energy crops. For more information on this and other willow related projects, go to the following website: http://www.esf.edu/willow/ .
Morrisville State College is also a leader in green energy production with a number of innovative projects already underway. They have installed a methane digester, which through a complex series of operations, uses cow manure to generate electricity. They have a small scale wind turbine on the schools dairy education facility, and they are looking into projects that develop biodiesel from products such as soybeans and algae. For more information on these and other programs, please see the following website: http://www.morrisville.edu/ . Although this article doesn’t begin to touch upon all the projects in Madison County, it does highlight the fact that there are numerous green energy projects underway with many more opportunities for growth in the future.