The Modern History of North Carolinian Energy and Climate Change Policy: Discussing the Hog-waste Biogas Debate by Cameron Oglesby

In recent years, North Carolina has made significant progress in the way of renewable energy infrastructure and energy policy designed to reduce the state’s overall carbon footprint. In 2017, after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accords, Governor Roy Cooper joined a growing movement of organizations, governors, and nonprofits committed to maintaining the commitments outlined in the Accords.[1], [2] One of 25 states to join the U.S. Climate Alliance,[3] North Carolina has promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 2005 levels by 2025.[4] On October 29, 2018, Cooper signed Executive Order No. 80 which established a framework for the state of North Carolina to transition to a clean energy economy.[5], [6] This followed the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence. “Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as an enormous Category 1 storm. Climate scientists have noted that warming ocean waters are increasingly allowing hurricanes to form quickly and head for land, only to stall and unleash a torrent of deadly rain — exactly as Florence did.”[7]

So, my larger argument revolves around the use and classification of renewable energy sources. The primary sources talked about in North Carolina right now are Solar, Wind, and Biogas. I will delve into the options with regard to Solar and Wind power as well as the controversy behind Biogas to evaluate whether a) Biogas does more harm than good, and b) whether Biogas is necessary considering NC’s recent progress with Solar and Wind energy. Do the costs of Biogas outweigh the benefits and does NC need to look into Biogas right now?

In order to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions as outlined in E.O.80, North Carolina hopes to operate using the following “renewable” energy types:

Solar and Wind

In 2017, the NC legislature passed House Bill 589, the state’s first comprehensive piece of energy legislation since 2007. This bill outlined several standards for increasing the amount of renewable energy options available to the public. This includes: the competitive procurement of renewable energy by Duke Energy, a Green Source Advantage program for educational institutions and private business, a solar rebate program for public solar panels, and a solar leasing program for third party solar sale/purchase.[8]

Competitive Procurement of Renewable Energy: Duke Energy has an energy monopoly in North Carolina and is a provider for millions of citizens.[9] “Under HB589, Duke Energy is required to procure 2,660 MW (approximately 5% of current capacity) of renewable energy over a 45-month period.”7, [10]

Green Source Advantage: The GSA system provides military installations, UNC system institutions, and businesses the opportunity to support the development of renewable energy in North Carolina.7 This system is one that Duke University Utilities has been looking into and allows outside renewable energy developers to enter in Purchased Power Agreements with Duke Energy to incorporate an allotted portion of energy into the Duke grid. Institutions enter into agreements with outside developers who funnel renewable energy into the Duke Energy grid who then provides Renewable Energy Certification back to the institutions as confirmation of the purchase. These REC’s are “used to track renewable energy from the point of generation to a purchaser of green power.”[11] This method encourages Duke Energy to diversify its portfolio and allows larger institutions the opportunity to invest in renewable energy while continuing to secure power through Duke Energy.

Solar Rebate Program: Duke Energy’s monopoly on energy makes it difficult for individuals to invest in personal renewable energy mechanisms like solar panels. H.B.589 creates incentives for personal energy investment in the form of rebates to encourage individuals to invest in energy outside of the Duke Energy grid.7

Solar Leasing Program: Third party solar sale and purchase has been illegal in the state of North Carolina up until the passing of H.B.589.7 A solar leasing program allows institutions and businesses to purchase solar power from outside developers/lenders independent of Duke Energy and the Duke grid. Duke University, in an attempt to reach carbon neutrality by 2024, has been calling for the legalization of third-party energy sales for several years[12], that permission allowing larger institutions to invest in energy without the restrictions or limitations of Duke Energy’s portfolio.

Wind: 64% of Duke Energy’s renewable energy capacity is in the form of wind power. Initially as a part of H.B.589 there was a moratorium on the use of wind power to prevent wind turbines from messing with NC military training operations.[13] In 2019, NC state lawmakers removed a wind ban from Senate Bill 377, choosing to add a provision stating that wind developers hoping to instate wind turbine infrastructure should seek approval from the military.[14] Despite the push to keep wind energy off the NC coastline, legislation has been moving in the way of wind for a long time, the recent E.O.80 creating an atmosphere for greater wind investment.

The point of all this information is to highlight that North Carolina has several prospects in the way of renewable energy, a broad reaching framework for addressing climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and an agreement to uphold the Paris Climate Accords sustainably and as quickly as possible. It is making major moves toward establishing a clean air economy and appears dedicating to establishing a system that is fair, safe, and equitable.

However, one growing energy source comes in the form of Biogas/Hog waste natural gas, an energy type that comes with many benefits and potential drawbacks/concerns. I discuss here, the pros and cons to biogas use, and argue that biogas is not a necessary resource at this moment.


The following is outlined in Governor Cooper’s E.O.80: “Whereas, climate-related environmental disruptions pose significant health risks to North Carolinians, including waterborne disease outbreaks, compromised drinking water, increases in disease-spreading organisms, and exposure to air pollution.”5 This assumes that all implemented energy standards and solutions should pose no risk to human life, water quality, or air quality.

Biogas has been proposed as the sustainable next step in the treatment of hog waste in North Carolina, an eco-friendly solution to a large problem for a state that relies so heavily on hog farming.[15]15 As it stands, North Carolina ranks #3 in the United States for methane production; there are currently 75 biogas systems set up with potential for many more.[16]16 Duke University, a major employer in the region, has been looking into biogas strategy to help reach it’s carbon neutrality goals, and blazed a trail for the development of hog-waste natural gas infrastructure in the state (through experimentation with Loyd Ray Farms).[17]17

Right now, hog farms across the state handle their manure by dumping the feces into open-air lagoons or sprayfields. This method of disposal generates a lot of methane, both air and water pollution, and has led to environmental justice concerns; residents located near these lagoons have complained of the smell and toxic emissions from the lagoons that have been connected to higher rates of “infant mortality, mortality due to anemia, kidney disease, tuberculosis, [and] septicemia.”[18]18 Those impact have disproportionately belonged to black and brown communities.[19]

This is a narrative decades in the making, North Carolina residents having to endure “swarms of flies, nausea, and headaches triggered by open air lagoons.” There have been stories of feces getting blown onto houses from local fields and the smell seeping into houses to the point that residents had to board up their windows.19 At Smithfield Farms, waste and blood is collected in lagoons until the pools overflow, at which point additional waste is sprayed onto fields as fertilizer. “As a result, people living nearby are at higher risk of suffering asthma, high blood pressure, and nausea,” surrounding regions often flooded with hog excrement during heavy rain.19 Additionally, the use of anti-biotics in pigs has resulted in elevated cases of anti-biotic resistant staph bacteria in the air surrounding these farms. “A study published by the University of North Carolina found that communities predominantly made up of people of color are far more likely to be exposed to hog waste than other communities.”19

It is believed that in capturing natural gas seeping from these lagoons, the fumes could be used as renewable natural gas energy, solving the problem of bad smell and toxicity to local residents. However, others believe that turning these already defective and inequitable systems into a source of valuable energy, could create a demand for hog products that is unsustainable and unfair to those who live near the farms. Some believe that turning these lagoons into energy hotspots will continue to result in leaks that lead to reductions in air quality, soil quality, and water quality.[20]20,21 There are also questions of the sustainability of the practice and the demand this sort of energy source will create for more unsustainable pork products and “inhumane” concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO).21, 22, 23 On a similar vein, what happens if demand for pork products doesn’t meet demand for hog-waste biogas? Will the pigs just get killed when they grow too big to be profitable? The point being, there are too many variables with regard to pork production, proper management of biogas facilities and potential impacts on residents and communities of color, and the laws of supply and demand. If demand for hog farms increases as a result of the implementation of biogas systems, there is greater potential for negative health and social impacts to local residents due to the hog waste, leaks, etc. If demand for pork products as food does not increase in conjunction with demand for biogas, there is a serious issue of animal welfare, animal rights, and what happens to pigs once they are no longer profitable (how much food they eat isn’t compatible with how much methane they produce).

The question becomes is generating a new and abundant source of renewable energy worth the potential risk to human lives? Is it worth the impact to the pork industry and the subsequent demand for more CAFO’s at the expense of the animals in captivity and the people living nearby? Biogas has the potential to create a relatively eco-friendly source of energy and reduce overall greenhouse gas emission as a result of fossil fuels and coal; it has the potential to reduce the amount of pollution that North Carolina residents experience near these hog farms; and it has the potential to reduce methane emissions for these farming operations. But is it necessary when the state is making significant strides in the way of solar and wind energy? Is it truly sustainable as the markets drive demand for pork? Is it worth the propagation of a system that already disproportionately harms communities of color?

This is a difficult question, one Duke University continues to grapple with, and one North Carolina faces as it discusses best actions for mitigating climate change.

Personally, I think North Carolina would do better to finalize the infrastructure changes necessary for its solar and wind initiatives before moving forward with biogas infrastructure. The process for biogas implementation, from appeasing environmental justice groups and local residents, to creating building infrastructure for capture the methane, to establishing natural gas infrastructure that can efficiently and economically transport that natural gas to the proper plants within Duke Energy’s grid, is a long and arduous one, one that deserves further consideration and debate. Right now, North Carolina has policies on their agenda that have been proven effective, that already work within current infrastructures, and which do well to help the state achieve its climate change goals. I think it’s worth taking a step back, reevaluating the possibilities, the stakeholders, and the costly ramifications for investing in Biogas systems, and first taking the necessary steps to fully establish our preexisting renewable energy programs.


[1] Bennett, A. (2017, September 20). Trump pulled out of climate agreement, but NC’s Cooper says ‘We remain committed’. Retrieved from

[2] Oglesby, C. (2019, September 27). How Duke is helping North Carolina reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Retrieved from

[3] Fact Sheet. (2019). Retrieved from

[4] Bradley-Wright, F. (2020, March 23). North Carolina and Duke Energy Hold Commanding Lead on Energy Efficiency in the Southeast – SACE: Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Retrieved from

[5] Cooper, R. (2018, October 29). NC Gov. Cooper: Executive Order NO. 80: North Carolina’s Commitment to Address Climate Change and Transition to a Clean Energy Economy. Retrieved from

[6] Regan, M. S. (2020, January 31). North Carolina is a leader in the fight against climate change. Retrieved from

[7] Twitter, E. A. C. (2018, October 30). North Carolina joins Paris agreement, citing historic storms like Florence. Retrieved from

[8] HB589. (2020, April 13). Retrieved from

[9] Home. (2019). Retrieved from

[10] 2019 Sustainability Report. (2019). Retrieved from

[11] NC and SC Green Source Advantage Program. (2020, April 24). Retrieved from

[12] Hudnall, D. (2016, April 21). Duke University Calls for Legalization of Third-Party Energy Sales in N.C. Retrieved from

[13] Associated Press. (2019, June 26). NC Wind Energy Future Bill Leaves Out Ban Or Moratorium. Retrieved from

[14] Mai, H. J. (2019, June 14). North Carolina removes anti-wind provision from bill. Retrieved from


[15] Ouzts, E. (2018, August 15). North Carolina pork industry appeals order suspending new biogas projects. Retrieved from

[16] Biogas State Profile: North Carolina. (2019). Retrieved from

[17] Biogas at Duke. (2019). Retrieved from

[18] Mock, B. (2018, October 5). North Carolina’s Environmental History Is Littered With Racial Injustice. Retrieved from

[19] Environmental and Energy Study Institute, & Eesi. (2018, August 10). Stink, Swine, and Nuisance: The North Carolina Hog Industry and its Waste Management Woes. Retrieved from study published by the,its impact on public health.



[20] Clabby, C., & North Carolina Health News. (2018, October 2). Proposals to Turn Hog Waste into Biofuel Spur Debate. Retrieved from

21 Clabby, C., & North Carolina Health News. (2018, October 2). Proposals to Turn Hog Waste into Biofuel Spur Debate. Retrieved from

22 Sturgis, S., Sturgis, S., Facing South, & Institute for Southern Studies. (2019, April 22). Permitting racial injustice in North Carolina hog country. Retrieved from

23 Barnes, G., & North Carolina Health News. (2019, January 4). Smithfield’s plans to cover hog lagoons could spur N.C. biogas industry. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “The Modern History of North Carolinian Energy and Climate Change Policy: Discussing the Hog-waste Biogas Debate by Cameron Oglesby

  1. I really agree with your suggestion to pursue other renewable options before biogas. Solar and wind have become cheaper than non-renewable generated electricity at this point, and I think it is time for the NC state government to recognize this fact and work towards prioritizing these two energy sources. I also agree with your point about the problems associated with using hog gas as a fuel source. I don’t think that people who are already unhappy with hog lagoons in their area would appreciate an biogas electricity generation plant. And even if they decided to move the biogas plant away from the hog lagoons, they’ve just move the problem to another area (and, because of how/where these things are usually moved, the plant would probably still be located in a marginalized community). If we can avoid the impacts of this by doing something like subsidizing and requiring new houses to be built with solar, then why not do that? That still leaves the problems that hog lagoons have, but I would like to see them treated like bio-hazardous sites to be environmentally remediated. Sure, this would be incredibly expensive, but they do pose substantial health, safety, and environmental risks to their respective areas. I would like to see this combined with more emphasis on vegetarian lifestyles and diets promoted, as to continually lessen the amount of waste produced from hogs in North Carolina. Of course, this is a state known for not one, but two styles of pork BBQ, so I am not sure how well that strategy would work. Regardless, biogas should be sidelined for more cleaner renewables while the problem of hog waste itself is tackled by the state government

  2. Hey Cameron! Biogas is definitely one of the bigger energy controversies in North Carolina, and you bring up so many important considerations in the decision of whether or not to pursue it as a source of renewable energy. One of the most important problems that you highlight with the current situation is the environmental injustice that surrounds the location of hog farms and demographics of the people negatively affected by open-air lagoons and hog waste spraying. It is not fair that black and brown communities are disproportionately being harmed by CAFOs on a systemic level.
    For that reason, I wonder if biogas is worth considering for equity purposes, more than anything else. I agree that solar and wind power are more likely to be scalable sources of energy (and less expensive), so biogas alone definitely won’t be sufficient for North Carolina’s renewable energy transition. But considering that hog CAFOs emit greenhouse gases, and current hog lagoons create so many respiratory irritants, biogas might provide an opportunity to prevent some of those climate and public health harms. Giving CAFO owners an incentive to cover their hog lagoons and capture the methane that they produce rather than letting it disperse might end up being the least expensive and most effective way of managing the situation. Considering the outsize power of the farm industry in politics, these measures might be more politically feasible than slapping on new regulations, too.
    I wish Americans didn’t like pork so much, but unfortunately, I don’t think that national demand for it will drop off anytime soon. Considering how few CAFOs are currently equipped to capture biogas, I would expect the demand for pork products to remain above that of biogas for the foreseeable future. Obviously, if that changed, and biogas were supporting the continued operation of hog farms, it would be worth reassessing the situation. After all, I think most of us in ENV 212 would agree that a closed CAFO is better than an open CAFO that happens to have biogas capture. Hopefully, Americans will become more open-minded about moving away from pork in the next few decades, and we can all eat healthier, more sustainable diets! As someone who avoids eating beef and pork, I can assure everyone that chicken, turkey, and fish aren’t so bad. 🙂
    It’s definitely worth keeping a close eye on how the biogas situation develops in North Carolina! CAFOs are currently hurting people’s health, keeping animals in inhumane conditions, and pumping the atmosphere full of greenhouse gases, so it’s worth doing what we can to get rid of them.

  3. Thanks for this really engaging piece! I strongly agree with your personal stance on this issue because I think supporting biogas only brings about more problems than it solves. While it may be a temporary fix that reduces methane production, it’s not really a sustainable one because it relies on a constant source of hogs, which are not indefinite like the sun or wind. To me biogas is another “renewable” energy source, like wood pellets, that is not truly renewable. The biogas route seems like a quick, not well-planned solution that attempts to satisfy stakeholders like farm owners and environmentalists. But it clearly fails to address the concerns of low-income communities of color that are being exposed to the open-air lagoons. You posed the question about whether or not it’s worth supporting a system that already disproportionately harms communities of color, and I think there’s a clear answer that no, it’s not okay to support a system that has and will continue to pollute the health and environment of vulnerable communities. I believe the resources expended in trying to expand the biogas industry could be better used to not only bolster the growing solar and wind industries in North Carolina, but also help communities of color that will need assistance and support to transition towards renewable energy. I would even suggest that supporting educational programs that inform consumers on healthier and more sustainable alternatives to a meat-based diet is more effective in the long-term than directing funding towards biogas development.

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