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SALT LAKE CITY — The waste is piling up in landfills, from grocery stores and restaurants and stinky manure from hog and dairy farms.
What to do with it?
Dominion Energy has the answer through transforming some of that waste into renewable natural gas through a number of ways, including a $500 million corporate partnership focused on hog waste.
It is the largest renewable natural gas project in the nation, involving a partnership with Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods. In addition to that, Dominion Energy just announced it will begin turning to dairy farms as a source of renewable natural gas via a more than $200 million business relationship with Vanguard Renewables and the Dairy Farmers of America.
Smithfield Foods, which is the world’s largest pork producer, operates hog farms in Utah’s Beaver County and Vanguard Renewables is the U.S. leader in transforming dairy farm-based waste into energy.
“Eighteen months ago we really started looking at investing in renewable natural gas,” said Ryan Childress, Dominion Energy’s director of gas business development. “We’re looking at being the most sustainable energy company in the country.”
The company is the fourth-largest in the nation for its solar fleet and is locking down the country’s largest offshore wind project.
At completion, the renewable natural gas captured from hog farms and dairy operations will be the equivalent of taking 700,000 cars off the road or planting 50 million trees, said Dominion Energy spokeswoman Ann Nallo.
The goal is to serve 4% of Dominion Energy’s customers by 2040 with renewable natural gas. Waste from the hog farms will produce enough renewable natural gas for 70,000 homes by 2029, Nallo said, through the Smithfield Foods project.
“One of the ways we talk about this is actions speak louder than words,” Childress said. “Sustainability really begins with an idea. To this point, we have $700 million in capital in developing this carbon negative source of energy. It is an incredibly large investment in a new technology in our industry that has a meaningful carbon impact.”
Here’s how it works.
The organic material at landfills and farms breaks down and produces methane. Through the process of anaerobic digestion, microbes break down the waste in the absence of oxygen and carbon dioxide is removed in a purifying process that converts it to pipeline-ready renewable natural gas.
According to Dominion Energy, when methane is converted into renewable natural gas, it captures 25 times more greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere than are released when the product is used by households and businesses.
Dominion Energy will receive renewable natural gas from the South Davis Sewer District and the Bayview Landfill in Utah. The renewable natural gas produced from the cluster of hog farms in the Milford area is owned by Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods and will be marketed to another entity to be distributed.
Smithfield Foods is in the final stage of installation of the anaerobic digesters at the hog farms near Milford, with the project scheduled to be operational in 2020.
The natural gas taken from 26 farms will be enough to supply 3,000 homes and get fed into the Kern River pipeline, said Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables for Smithfield Foods.
“This project north of Milford is a significant investment and is one that we are pretty happy about,” Westerbeek said.
With the Utah hog farms, Smithfield owns the farms, owns the digesters and owns the waste stream, but in other parts of the country, such as North Carolina, independent producers will have a chance to capture a new revenue stream by selling their waste, and reducing their carbon footprint as well.
“The dairymen we are partnering with are crucial to this,” Childress said. “This eliminates what was previously seen as a liability, which is really exciting for family farmers in Utah and elsewhere.”
The project taps into landfills in North Carolina and Ohio and is looking to spread to other locations like Arizona and California.
“We want to be open for business for renewable natural gas,” Childress said. “Not only are we looking to develop these projects, we are ready and willing to look for other developers to bring renewable natural gas on the system.”
Childress added the partnership among Dominion Energy, Vanguard Renewables and Smithfield Foods embraces expertise among very different industries.
“This is the largest partnership for renewable natural gas in the United States. The really unique part of it is that we are not in the same industry. We think it is pretty innovative for the world’s largest pork producers, the dairy association and one of the largest energy companies to get together to provide this solution.”
Turning a source of greenhouse gas emissions into energy through this project provides multiple benefits, Childress said.
“The project is a triple win,” he said, by providing clean renewable energy to customers, taking greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere and giving farmers a new way to make money.