CLEARING THE AIR: North Carolina aims to become a national leader in harnessing the power of animal waste to create a major renewable-energy source.


When it comes to raising swine and turkeys, North Carolina ranks among the top producers in the country--which means the state is also a chart-topper when it comes to animal waste. And that might be more valuable than one thinks.

Key partnerships among Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, farmers and local power producers are developing groundbreaking processes for capturing that waste and producing electricity and natural gas to power thousands of homes and businesses. These projects have the potential to make North Carolina a leader in renewable energy.

Dominion Energy, a Richmond, Va.-based electric utility that serves parts of North and South Carolina, announced a joint venture with Virginia-based Smithfield Foods to form Align Renewable Natural Gas in November 2018. The program captures methane emissions from hog farms and converts them into renewable energy. This year, the focus is on North Carolina.

Last October, the two companies invested an additional $250 million for Align RNG. A total of $500 million has been poured into the project since Its beginning, and about $375 million has gone into North Carolina.

Construction began in January for the first major N.C. development, the Grady Road Project, within a 30-mile radius in Duplin and Sampson counties near Warsaw. The initial operation involves collecting methane from three Smithfield-owned farms and 16 separate operations that contract with Smithfield to raise hogs. The 19 farms produce a combined 250,000 hogs annually.

"North Carolina is making great strides in clean energy, and we can continue to lead the way," says Ryan Childress, director of gas business development for Dominion Energy.

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard law in North Carolina requires utilities to use renewable sources to produce a percentage of the power they sell. While solar and wind are the dominant sources, the law also requires generating power from poultry and swine waste.

Natural byproducts--including hog manure--produce methane, which has raised environmental concerns because it emits about 25 times more greenhouse gas than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. The Align RNG process will capture about 105,000 metric tons of methane each year and create a carbon-negative fuel, which is the equivalent of taking half a million cars off the road or planting 40 million trees annually, according to Dominion Energy.

Cavanaugh & Associates PA, a Winston-Salem-based engineering firm...

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