Smithfield Foods, Dominion partnering on $250M renewable energy project

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RICHMOND, Va. — Bet you never thought a bunch of suits would be talking about poo power.  

Virginia-based companies, Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, announced a multi-million dollar partnership Tuesday to convert methane into natural gas. The $250 million initiative is called Align Renewable Natural Gas.

“This endeavor is bringing us together to build a more sustainable future,” Dominion Energy President & CEO Thomas Farrell said. 

Talk about natural gas – literally. 

90 percent of Smithfield’s hog farms in Virginia, North Carolina and Utah will be capturing methane gas from pigs. There are 19 farms in Virginia that are part of the project. Company leaders say this is one of the largest initiatives of it’s kind in the nation to lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Together over the next 10 years, we will lower carbon emissions in Virginia, North Carolina and Utah. We will mitigate environmental concerns,” Smithfield Food President & CEO Kenneth Sullivan said. 

The manure waste from barns will be collected and put into treatment facilities on the property, that company officials described as “covered lagoons.” The poo’s methane is then converted to natural gas. 

The natural gas will be sold to local companies. Dominion Energy officials say Columbia Gas of Virginia and Virginia Natural Gas have signed on to use this new resource. Over time, the natural gas will be also used by power plants to generate electricity. 

“Renewable natural gas is a carbon negative fuel because it captures significantly more greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture than are created from its end use in power plants, homes, and businesses,” Farrell said. 

Company officials say initially, the renewable product will be distributed through smaller, more localized pipe systems and mixed in with other natural gas. Farrell says once the project expands and more gas is collected, it could be transported through interstate pipelines. 

“It is inevitable, in my opinion, that it will get blended into the gas that is in the larger pipes in Utah, in North Carolina and in Virginia,” Farrell said. “In Virginia and North Carolina it’s almost the most approximate pipeline to these farms will be the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline spans 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina. The project still needs a permit approved by the State Air Pollution Control Board for an air compressor station in Buckingham County before construction can begin in Virginia. Work has already begun in the other two states. 

Advocates say the project is controversial because of the possible environmental and health impacts to a predominately African 

American community in Union Hill. The board is set to vote on the permit on Dec.10.

Meanwhile, the Align initiative has received $125 million investments from both companies totally $250 million, which will allow it to grow over the next decade.  

Company officials say the project is an innovative way to help Mother Nature. 

“Reducing methane has a much more positive impact on climate change than many other carbon reduction initiatives,” Farrell said. 

“Virginia and North Carolina have shown tremendous leadership on this issue and they have laid out some very ambitious goals. We are going to help them meet those goals.”

Governor Ralph Northam has proposed reducing carbon pollution from the electric power sector in the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan. The plan also encourages the expansion of other renewable energy resources, such as solar and offshore wind power.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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