Dominion, Smithfield Foods double their investment to turn pig manure into energy


By Tamara Dietrich, Daily Press (VA) 

Nov 04, 2019


You don’t have to live near a hog farm or processing plant to know how potent pig manure is.


About 75 million swine are producing manure in this country. That means they’re also producing methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that’s shorter-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but packs about 25 times the punch at heating the planet.


Environmentalists have long pushed for reductions in methane emissions to combat climate change, or for capturing methane from livestock operations to produce renewable natural gas, a biofuel.


A year ago, Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, announced they would do just that in a $250 million, 10-year joint venture to turn animal waste into energy.


Now the companies are doubling their effort, vowing to invest half a billion dollars in manure-to-energy projects in several states.


“It was just a very natural fit,” said Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables. “It was obvious from the beginning that Smithfield has expertise in raising animals and farming operations. Dominion’s obvious strengths are in the renewables market area.”


“From Dominion’s standpoint,” said Ryan Childress, director of Gas Business Development at Dominion Energy, “our customers want more renewables, and we want to provide those.”


Dominion is the biggest electric utility in Virginia, largely powering its generation plants using fossil fuels. It’s is also a natural gas provider. It operates in 18 states in the mid-Atlantic, the Northeast and Midwest.


Criticized for lagging in green energy options, the company has been pursuing ways to produce more of its power from solar and wind. It’s building a three-turbine demonstration project off Virginia’s coast, and in September announced plans for a 2.6 gigawatt, $7.8 billion offshore wind farm. If built, it would be the biggest offshore wind farm in the country, with about 220 giant turbines generating enough energy to power 650,000 homes by 2026.


The smaller-scale methane-to-renewable natural gas operations are projected to produce enough renewable natural gas to power more than 70,000 homes and businesses by 2029. But officials tout the added environmental benefits of reducing methane emissions by more than 2.5 million metric tons every year.


“Just to put that in perspective,” said Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby, “that would be the equivalent of taking half a million cars off the road, and all of the greenhouse gases that they emit, or planting 40 million new trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”


The original venture entailed four projects: one in Waverly in Sussex County that’s expected to break ground next year, two in North Carolina and one in Utah.


Doubling the investment will enable scaling up to other states, such as Arizona, California and Missouri. Longer-term, said Westerbeek, they might expand to Colorado or Iowa.


Each project...