Power generation from hog waste lags behind N.C. law’s requirement

Utility companies ask state for more time

jprice@newsobserver.comNovember 24, 2012 

A study done for the N.C. Utilities Commission estimated that hog waste could generate enough electricity to power 93,000 homes. The income from that electricity could help pay for better waste treatment systems on farms.

The effort to harvest that crop of watts, though, has moved barely at all, despite being a legal requirement.

Under a state law approved in 2007, utilities this year were supposed to get at least some of the electricity they sell from hog and poultry waste.

The targets for electricity from hog and poultry waste were modest: for hog waste, 0.07 percent of what utilities sold here in 2012, rising to 0.20 percent by 2018.

But the utility companies haven’t come close, in part because the technology to generate power from hog poop has lagged.

Cost and design have been issues. Only about half a dozen farms in the state have or are building anaerobic digesters to collect methane as fuel for electrical generators, and some that can generate power aren’t hooked into the grid.

The technology is still young. As of September, there were fewer than 200 anaerobic digesters in use on U.S. livestock farms, most being used on dairy farms, according to the EPA. Fewer than two dozen were on hog farms.

Once collected, the gas can be burned for heat, as fuel to generate electricity for resale or use on the farm, or simply burned to prevent it from contributing to global warming.

The power companies have asked the state utilities commission for a delay of two years in the generation targets.

The pork producers supported the delay, but only because they want to make sure that failure doesn’t lead the state to simply do away with that part of the law, said Deborah Johnson, executive director of the N.C. Pork Council.

Pork producers have been hammered by record-high feed prices, and some farms have closed in recent years, she said. Her group is keenly interested in opening new sources of revenue, such as electrical generation, for farm owners, and firmly backs the law requiring power generation, she said.

“We’re basically in survival mode,” Johnson said, “and anything that can be done to remain profitable would be a help.”

The pork council has pushed the utilities to move forward, and it has been working with companies that would build power-generating waste treatment systems as an investment, said Tommy Stevens, a contractor with the council.

The commission conducted hearings on the delay at the end of August, and it is expected to rule on the request for an extension in the next few weeks.

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