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TULARE, Calif. - With energy costs high and crop prices sluggish, farmers are turning to solar power, converting manure to natural gas and planting exotic trees to help them survive a tough economy.

Farmer and entrepreneur David Albers is among those using technology to boost revenue at his 2,800-cow dairy and that of many others.

Albers is president of BioEnergy Solutions, a company that builds facilities to extract methane gas from cow manure.

Unlike other systems that use the gas to power farm buildings, Albers' company collects it, processes it, then pumps it into a pipeline to be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

He and participating dairies benefit by getting paid for the gas while also managing their cow waste in a more environmentally friendly way.

Albers said he has contracts and or letters of intent with 100 dairies in California's central San Joaquin Valley to join the project.

"It has been a tough road, and a lot of people said that this would not work, but I am happy to say we are pumping gas," said Albers, who owns Vintage Dairy in western Fresno County.

Air quality officials attending the recent Farming Clean Energy Conference in Tulare spotlighted the Albers company and the use of fuel-cell technology as examples of using waste to create power without producing harmful emissions.

"This is the wave of the future," said Dave Warner, director of the permit services division for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. "These two technologies will really be at the forefront."

The conference was designed to demonstrate clean energy potential while also showing off examples of successful clean energy projects and the challenges to create them.

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