Republicans in Congress have been blunt in their assessment of the Obama administration's renewable energy policies: they are a pile of manure.
But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday earlier this week that manure could be just the solution to some of the county's energy woes.
"Using enhanced manure management techniques not only provides a new source of income for farmers, it also improves air and water quality while providing renewable electricity for hundreds of homes in the community," said Vilsack. "It's a win-win-win."
President Barack Obama's support for several failed solar companies, in particular, has been a target for Republicans as the November national elections approach. Obama's Energy Department awarded $535 million in 2009 solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra, which went bankrupt last year, taking almost all of that money with it.
Republicans have been eager to make Solyndra a watchword for failed renewable-energy policies, invoking it repeatedly in oversight hearings, as well as in advertisements for Obama presidential challenger, Mitt Romney.
But the USDA did not acknowledge any of that this week, instead touting an "anaerobic digester" the agency funded last year that produces its own electricity with enough left over to sell to the grid. Anaerobic digesters work by letting manure and bacteria stew for a while, which gives off methane that can be burned to produce electricity.
Vilsack's comments came following a tour of a dairy farm in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that uses the anaerobic digester. The 570 cows at the farm can generate enough manure to produce 920,000 kWh of electricity over the course of the year.
And rest assured, no cows were injured in the making of that electricity at Penwood Farms. It does not sound like they were even inconvenienced.
Indeed, the digester not only makes electricity, but also produces high-quality bedding for the cows, "providing a resting area for more contented cows," USDA said proudly.
In comparison to the federal dollars shelled out for Solyndra, those contented cows came cheap. The funding for the digester came from USDA's Rural Energy for America Program last year and totaled $528,000 in loans.