Corporate filing reveals failure, belies PR blitz last spring by the two Dukes – the university & the energy giant
In the spring, Duke Energy and Duke University created lots of news buzz over their efforts to capture usable energy from manure-filled cesspools at massive North Carolina hog farms. Duke Energy’s state president, David Fountain claimed the Charlotte-based corporation had made “a major breakthrough for renewable energy in North Carolina.”
The timing was odd, coming just as a series of long-planned lawsuits by hog farm neighbors moved toward court. Duke Energy strongly implied that the decades-long challenge of safely handling the vast amounts of feces from giant hog operations had finally been solved. The university said it’s committed to solving it.
Now, Duke Energy has admitted once again to state regulators that it can’t back the PR with action. It can’t meet a state renewable energy requirement that it generate a tiny amount of electricity from hog waste now or anytime soon. By 2018, 0.2 percent of the renewable requirement was supposed to come from hog waste. After Duke complained that it couldn’t perform, state regulators cut the requirement to .07 percent earlier this year. Last month, Duke asked that the requirement be reduced to just .02 percent.
Today, there is only one swine gas project online in North Carolina. Several projects have failed; others are in the planning stage. Duke Energy told the NC Utilities Commission that, included among the many challenges, are: basic technology, lack of experienced developers, fuel supply, site selection, financing, interconnection, fuel transportation, and bankruptcy of developers.
Those problems didn’t just emerge over the summer. So why did Charlotte-based Duke Energy executives generate positive news stories implying they’ve conquered the super-stubborn swine gas challenge? Neither CEO Lynn Good nor university President Vincent Price responded to NC WARN’s July letter asking for information to support their hog waste optimism.
Last Friday, NC WARN filed formal comments in the renewable energy docket pointing out the discrepancy between corporate PR and actual practices. As we told Good and Price in July, we would welcome a breakthrough that could capture climate-busting methane from hog farms IF it also reduces local suffering from air and water pollution. The available evidence is that neither of the Dukes is on track to achieving either goal.
Meanwhile, a new study by Duke University published in the North Carolina Medical Journal concludes what neighbors have long contended: People who live within three miles of hog farms have significantly higher incidents of disease and chronic health conditions.
Both Dukes need to be straight with the public – especially those bearing the ongoing assault by Smithfield Foods, the giant corporate owner of the hog operations whose profit-driven practices are also unfair to the farmers and, of course, the animals.