The letter below was sent today to the presidents of Duke University and Duke Energy. In short:
- Amid prodigious PR by the two Dukes since the spring about creating biogas from hog waste, there apparently has been no technology breakthrough in several years.
- Existing biogas technology apparently would provide little relief for the thousands of North Carolinians living near and suffering from industrial hog operations.
- We’d love to see the methane problem solved for climate purposes, but Duke Energy plans to do only the bare minimum of biogas generation required by state law anyway.
- We urge the presidents to help solve the hog waste tragedy, and not to exploit the misery by acting as if they’ve solved the swine biogas problem without also helping reduce local suffering.
July 30, 2018
To: Duke University President Vincent Price and Duke Energy President & CEO Lynn Good
Subject: With potential hog waste conversion to usable biogas, please help neighbors of industrial hog operations
Dear President Price and President Good:
NC WARN appreciates that President Price listened to campus-related and community voices in the spring by indefinitely suspending plans to allow Duke Energy to build a fracked gas-burning power plant on campus. Now, we hope you will open up the discussion so that students, alumni, community members and nonprofit experts urging cheaper, renewable energy solutions can help the University become a national leader in the effort to avert runaway climate chaos.
In addition, we note with keen interest the University’s announced plans to invest serious resources into advancing the development of swine biogas technology based on your Ray Farm pilot project. At nearly the same time, Duke Energy widely publicized its five-farm biogas project in Duplin County, with state president David Fountain declaring it a “major breakthrough for renewable energy in North Carolina.” It’s hard not to view that as a major overstatement.
It seems odd that both announcements were made just as the long-planned lawsuits by hog operation neighbors were getting underway, and that both Dukes’ publicity could be construed as implying that the decades-long challenge of safely handling the vast amounts of manure from giant hog operations has, at long last, been solved. The available evidence indicates otherwise.
To be clear, we will applaud the University or Duke Energy if you can indeed solve the incredible challenge of the methane gas emanating from this state’s thousands of industrial hog operations – especially given methane’s increasingly prominent role in driving the climate crisis – but any such solution must include measures to relieve the incredible suffering of those living nearby due to air and water contamination. That suffering is, of course, the focus of the series of nuisance lawsuits.
The abundant publicity and news coverage about the University’s and Duke Energy’s biogas projects includes little indication that there will be significant relief for the people living near those enormous cesspools filled with millions of gallons of feces and urine. In fact, among the few technical data
available regarding your plans, the University’s diagram indicates continued use of the industrial spray equipment that now spreads the cesspool waste into the neighbors’ air and onto farm fields, and continually pollutes surface and ground water. The spray-field process is labeled “irrigation.”
At your April 10th forum, the campus panelists seemed clearly eager to begin the work to help solve the hog waste-to-biogas dilemma, but indicated that no serious technology upgrades have occurred in several years. One panelist referred to her hope that biogas development will also improve conditions for hog farm neighbors, that it should create “considerable reduction in odors” and “address pathogens” being emitted. But the chance of actualizing those hopes seems remote.
Meanwhile, Duke Energy’s biogas project developer, Optima KV, has a website with virtually no information, and regulatory filings are equally devoid of technical data.
It seems quite unlikely that both Dukes would so extensively promote your swine biogas initiatives without also emphasizing reductions in air and water pollution, if indeed any substantial benefits existed. We find no data from any source that shows such benefits based on the state of the art for biogas technology.
QUESTION: Is our interpretation correct that, so far, use of swine biogas by both Dukes involves little if any relief from air and water pollution? Please provide any information to the contrary and explain why it wasn’t strong enough to be included in the publicity about your swine biogas projects.