Washington state, faced with a severe drought, leading to dwindling reservoirs and an energy shortage, is planning to use one of its major natural resources to solve its energy problem: cows.

There are 246,000 cows in Washington State and their dung is clean-burning and environmentally friendly. It’s the main fuel used in much of India. According to a recent study by the Dairy Federation, waste from diary cattle in just one county could generate up to 10 megawatts of electricity, enough to light 8,000 homes.

Running a biogas plant involves mixing dung with bacteria and heating it, producing a gas that is 75% methane that in turn is used to fire electric turbines. The plants are expensive to construct, but two bills have been proposed in the state senate and house that would give tax breaks for biogasplant construction. Portland General Electric has begun building a tiny facility on a farm near Salem, Oregon which will rely on the farm’s 500 cows for fuel. The plant is expected to generate 100 kilowatts of power, enough for around 65 homes.

This has been one of the driest winters on record in the Pacific Northwest, an area that normally gets 70% of its power from hydro-electricity.

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