Two years ago, Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods joined forces in a transformational initiative to reduce emissions from hog farms across our region. Our solution has the dual benefit of combating climate change and providing economic opportunities for family farmers.
Together, our companies are investing $500 million to capture methane emissions from hog farms and turn it into clean energy for local homes and businesses. It’s called renewable natural gas, or RNG. This single technology reduces emissions from farms, provides clean energy for consumers and generates income for family farmers.
The best part is, it reduces significantly more greenhouse gas emissions from farms than are released when consumers use the gas to heat their homes and businesses. That is a significant improvement for the environment.
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When our partnership was first announced, it was applauded by policymakers from both parties, leading environmentalists, and farmers and economic developers across our region. They all recognized the benefits for the environment, consumers and family farmers.
Unfortunately, in recent months activist groups have spread misinformation about this initiative. It has resulted in confusion and concern. We believe the public deserves truthful and accurate information, so we are taking this opportunity to set the record straight.
RNG projects do not expand the size of existing hog farms, nor do they permit new ones. Simply put, these projects allow farmers to reduce emissions from farms that have already been in operation for many years. RNG projects help these farms become more environmentally sustainable and economically viable, but not larger in size.
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RNG projects reduce emissions in the community – by a lot. Our first project in Sampson and Duplin Counties will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from participating farms by more than 150,000 metric tons each year. That’s the same amount as taking 36,000 cars off the road or planting 2.7 million new trees each year. Even critics of the project cannot deny that this is a major improvement for the environment.
RNG projects do not change any of the strict environmental regulations that already apply to hog farms. These projects — and the permits they require — simply allow farmers to install technology that reduces emissions from their farms. These farms already operate under existing permits, which mandate some of the strongest environmental regulations in the country.
Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods have been transparent about the locations of the participating farms. Over the past 18 months, we have held several community meetings, published multiple advertisements in local newspapers and delivered community mailers to area residents. While not all participating farms have been selected, these materials provided the locations of all the farms that are under consideration. This information is also clearly displayed on our website.
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Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods are not the first companies to develop RNG projects in North Carolina. Over the last 10 years, more than 20 North Carolina hog farms have installed the same technology without opposition, controversy or any of the harmful impacts opponents have predicted. Likewise, our companies have developed many similar projects in other states, and they have been embraced by local communities.
Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods formed this partnership for three reasons — to reduce emissions for the good of the environment, generate clean energy for consumers and provide new income for family farmers. Few technologies can achieve so much good, so broadly across the community.
We welcome a healthy debate, but it must be based on facts and not misinformation. Climate change is a complex and global challenge, and it requires all of us working together to solve it. Let’s work together to solve this challenge and build a clean, sustainable environment for future generations.
Ryan Childress is Director of Gas Business Development for Dominion Energy. Kraig Westerbeek is Senior Director of Smithfield Renewables.