Union County hog-waste plant cleared for pilot program

By   – Senior Staff Writer, Charlotte Business Journal


N.C. regulators say a Union County hog-waste plant proposed by GESS International can participate in a pilot project to supply alternative gas to Duke Energy Corp. through a pipeline operated by Piedmont Natural Gas.

The N.C. Utilities Commission approved the $30 million Monroe project and four other alternative-gas production sites proposed by GESS for the pilot. GESS would not have been allowed to inject gas into the Piedmont pipeline system without permission to participate in the pilot program, which is designed to determine if alternative gases might cause damage to pipelines or to customer equipment if they are allowed transportation on Piedmont’s system.

GESS, based in Raleigh, had once hoped to start construction on the Monroe plant sometime this month. But James Elkins, GESS’ director of projects and regulatory oversight, says it is likely to be June or so before construction gets underway.

“We used the extra time wisely by finding faster and better ways to construct the facilities,” he says. “This has allowed us to cut our construction time down to … (about) a year to be in full production.”

The company also intends to start construction soon on additional projects in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Wilson counties. Those are the other projects included in the commission order this week. The company is eyeing at least two other sites in the state. And Elkins says the company has projects planned in Missouri and Idaho that could also start construction this summer.

Trucking the gas

The approval given by the commission authorizes the company to inject gas from the five plants at three approved sites on Piedmont’s pipeline network. The plants will not be connected directly to the pipelines, which is how gases such as biogas are often put into a pipeline network. Instead, GESS proposed, and the commission approved, three injection sites on the pipeline to take the biogas from GESS.

Gas from the production plants will be trucked to an injection site and pumped into the pipelines there. One site is located in Union County, another is in Wilson County and the other is in Bladen County, which will serve the Bladen, Columbus and Robeson plants.

Much of the gas will be sold to Duke (NYSE: DUK) for use at natural gas plants operated by Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress. But the company says it also has other potential customers.

The gas at the Monroe site will be produced in four anaerobic digesters, located on 1,100 acres owned by Cox Brothers Farms near Monroe. The plant will use manure from Cox’s 1,500 sows as well as vegetative waste and grasses from about 3,000 of the 15,000 acres the agricultural company owns in North and South Carolina.

Other approvals

Duke can use the gas to help it meet state requirements for producing a portion of the energy it sells from renewable resources. N.C. utilities are to produce 12.5% of the electricity they sell from renewables by 2021. A small portion of that is to come from hog and chicken waste.

Optima BioEnergy brought the first N.C. swine-waste plant in operation in March 2018. Then, in June, the commission decided there should be a three-year pilot program to assess the impact of alternative gas on Piedmont’s system and its customers. The commission said it was concerned alternative gases could have impurities that might cause problems for regular natural gas customers or for Piedmont’s pipes.

That slowed progress on alternative gas for a few months. But with this week’s action, the commission has allowed nine additional projects by four producers — including the five GESS plants — to participate in the pilot along with the original Optima plant.

2019-03-15 07:03