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​Duke Energy is taking poop power to a new level

RALEIGH, N.C. - Duke Energy (DUK) said Monday it is expanding its renewable energy from livestock waste, adding poop power to investments the country's largest electric company has made in whirring wind turbines and acres of solar arrays.

The Charlotte-based utility said it contracted with Carbon Cycle Energy, which will build and own a North Carolina plant that collects methane from pig and chicken waste, refines the gas and delivers enough for Duke Energy to generate electricity to power about 10,000 homes a year.

The project is one of the largest in a growing number of waste-to-fuel efforts and likely will draw mostly from swine operations, company spokesman Randy Wheeless said. The state's 2,000 pork producers now collect liquefied waste in cesspools, also called lagoons, and spray it on planted fields.

"It would be very nice for the producer to be able to find another stream of income," said Jay Sullivan, a fourth-generation farmer raising more than 5,000 piglets and slaughter-ready hogs on a 900-acre Sampson County farm. A local sage "always said there was gold in those lagoons, we just have to figure out how to extract it. Maybe this is it, I don't know," he said.

Duke Energy already is burning methane from smaller projects, including one that draws the gas off the waste from more than 70,000 hogs on 10 adjoining farms in Duplin County, Wheeless said. The utility this month received approval from state regulators to count methane from swine waste in Oklahoma and Missouri toward its North Carolina livestock target.

Carbon Cycle Energy's plan is to capture methane near where livestock produce manure, then truck or pipe the gas to a central plant to refine it into fuel Duke Energy can use at four power plants, executive vice president Thomas Mulholland said.

"We're collecting something that goes to waste. We're putting it to good use and at the same time reducing smell, reducing negative environmental impact," Mulholland said.

The project was spurred by a 2007 state law that requires electric utilities to get 12.5 percent of their power from renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2021. More than half the states have similar requirements. But North Carolina, behind Iowa, the country's second-largest pork producing state with about 8.8 million hogs, is one of the few that requires utilities to produce some power from swine and poultry waste.

Boulder, Colorado-based Carbon Cycle's methane-refining plant, likely to be built in the hog-growing heartland of eastern North Carolina, should help Duke Energy meet its requirement of two-tenth of a percent of its power coming from swine waste by 2021, Wheeless said.

The electric utility has 7.2 million customers in the Carolinas, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Florida.

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