Friday, February 23, 2007

The Future Of Hog Farming In North Carolina

The North Carolina Pork Council and Progress Energy said in a press conference on Monday afternoon that they’ve found an economical way to generate energy from farm waste. They asked legislators to create a seven-year pilot program that would test the feasibility of converting hog waste from across the state into electricity, which could be sold to the utility company no later than late 2012. If approve by the General Assembly, hog producers would collect methane gas from their treatment systems and convert it to power. Under the pilot program, Progress Energy would purchase the electricity generated at about 18 cents per kilowatt hour – significantly more than the 4.5 cents to the 5.5 cents usually paid by other non-utility generators. The program could help the hog industry develop a new use for hog waste, which would further increase the state’s renewable energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While it might hold some promise, it is not clear what happens to the remainder of the hog waste. Under federal law, progress energy and other utility companies are required to buy electricity from renewable energy generators and other small electricity producers. If my bill, HB77, passes, the same will be required by state law.

On Tuesday, environmentalists and neighbors of hog farms in eastern North Carolina held a press conference and walked the halls of the General Assembly to meet with legislators to urge them to approve a permanent ban on animal waste lagoons and spray fields, and replace those that already exist with safer methods of disposal. A 10-year state moratorium on new hog lagoons is set to expire in September, 2007. North Carolina is the nation’s second-largest swine-producing state and its hog farms dump 13 million pounds of hog waste a day into open-air pits called lagoons, which is later sprayed on fields as fertilizer. Farmers say the practice is the only economically feasible way to handle the waste, but opponents say it’s an environmental danger, spoiling the air and contaminating groundwater and rivers, as well as ruining the quality of life of neighbors. Last spring, a report recommended five alternatives that would reduce ammonia and pathogen emissions, but which could cost of up to five times more than the lagoon and spray-field method. Environmental groups and swine farmers launched two pilot projects last summer to dispose of the waste more safely.

Also Tuesday, Rep. Dewey Hill, D-Columbus, introduced legislation (House Bill 275) to extend the existing moratorium on new hog farms and lagoons by three years, to September 2010. In the next week or two, legislation will be introduced permanently banning new hog waste lagoons and phasing out existing lagoons.

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