The North Carolina Pork Council (NCPC) has asked state legislators to create a pilot program to test the feasibility of converting hog waste into electricity.

Progress Energy, a Raleigh, NC-based utility, said it would participate in the program if legislators approved it.

NCPC is working on the bill's language and securing bill sponsors, says Deborah Johnson, NCPC chief executive officer. Murphy-Brown LLC, the Warsaw, NC-based subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, and others developed the technology to capture methane gas from the farms' anaerobic treatment systems and convert the gas into electricity, according to the NCPC.

“This pilot program will help us see if it will be possible for producers to sell energy at a rate that allows them to justify the capital investment and cover the operating expenses for these projects,” says R.C. Hunt, NCPC president and contract hog grower.

Under the program, Progress Energy would purchase the electricity generated at about 18¢/kilowatt hour — significantly more than the 4½ to 5½¢ usually paid by other non-utility generators, according to the utility company.

The proposal would call for a seven-year pilot period, in which Progress Energy would start buying no later than late 2012.

The program “will help the hog industry determine if converting hog waste to electricity is economical and feasible, and will help us develop reliable and safe systems for connecting renewable generating sources to our grid,” says Gene Upchurch, a vice president with Progress Energy.

Hunt says he hopes the process becomes more efficient with time.

“From an environmental standpoint, this program makes good sense because we're providing a renewable energy source and, by capturing the methane gas, we're lowering greenhouse gas emissions,” he says.