Biogas, formed by the anaerobic digestion of organic materials such as sewage, farming wastes, food waste, and other biologically-derived waste products, is an infinitely renewable resource. North Carolina ranks third in the United States for biogas resources, and currently has 75 operational biogas projects. Until recently, biogas has typically been used to fuel combustion engines used to power electric generators, or simply to generate heat. However, it can also be used as a transportation fuel to displace petrochemicals and, with proper refinement, to displace any current use for natural gas, such as at existing electricity generation facilities.
North Carolina has yet to meet the animal waste set-aside in the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard despite its vast biogas resources. In fact, the NC Utilities Commission updated the compliance schedules for the swine waste and poultry waste set-asides in the REPS requirements. NCSEA recognized the need for a biogas working group to help expand the biogas markets and provide future market visibility.
NCSEA’s Biogas Working Group has led to two important outcomes. The first outcome is the renewable natural gas (RNG) standard that was filed by Piedmont Natural Gas and negotiated among several stakeholders in 2017. On June 19, 2018, the NC Utilities Commission approved a three-year pilot program for Piedmont Natural Gas to get experience with the receipt of RNG. The Commission will consider modifications to the testing regime required at the conclusion of the pilot phase.
The importance of the RNG standard cannot be overstated, because biogas can be injected into the existing natural gas pipelines for delivery to any customer served across the country. This renewable and sustainable supply of energy can reduce North Carolina’s dependence on supplies from outside the state, because resources are in every region. Because of our state’s rich organic resources, biogas system development will foster economic development in rural and depressed areas of the state, providing jobs and investment where they are needed most.
The second outcome of NCSEA’s Biogas Working Group is the beginning of a bioenergy resource inventory and economic impact analysis overseen by Research Triangle Institute (RTI). Duke Energy allocates $1 million annually to an R&D fund for REPS implementation for different projects and the company agreed to budget $250,000 each year for two years for the purpose of the inventory. RTI will partner with universities such as NC State University and East Carolina as needed for this work.
NCSEA’s Biogas Working Group convenes an active dialogue toward the following goals:
- Increasing access of North Carolina’s corporate customers to new clean energy options sourced locally;
- Identifying policy initiatives that will remove obstacles and impediments to biogas development in North Carolina;
- Promoting biogas development such that it is available in sufficient quantities to create a thriving biogas market in North Carolina; and,
- Providing future market visibility to attract sufficient investment and minimize cost uncertainties.