States Create Ways to Use, Reduce, and Eliminate Methane
By: Sydney Sheffield
State representatives have started innovating ways to curb climate change. Colorado has become the first state to apply the social cost of methane to regulatory decisions. To the east, North Carolina’s Farm Act allows a permit process for hog farmers that want to collect methane gas from waste ponds to use for energy.
For the first time, Colorado will require state officials to consider the social cost of methane in regulatory decisions. This comes as a growing number of states are passing laws aimed to lower carbon emissions. “By focusing on methane reduction now, it has the greatest potential to bend the curve on fighting climate change,” said state Representative Tracey Bernett.
According to the US Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases Report, methane emissions are $1,756 per short ton, while carbon dioxide is $68. The law, Public Utilities Commission Modernize Gas Utility Demand-side Management Standards, requires that state regulators must take a longer-term view of the cost savings of reducing energy use. The hope is with that longer view, more programs that reduce demand through improved insulation and other devices will be justified as cost-effective.
When deciding what programs are cost-effective, state regulators must incorporate into their evaluations “the costs of greenhouse gas emissions, including the social cost of carbon dioxide and methane leaked or emitted into the atmosphere,” the law says. It also says regulators must use a discount rate of 2.5% or less. The lower the discount rate, the greater the future benefits of not producing greenhouse gas emissions.
“We need to reduce the demand for methane by improving the energy efficiency of the building sector through weatherization, more highly efficient space and water heaters, and aggressive adoption of clean-heat technologies,” Bernett said.
In North Carolina, the recently passed Farm Act will help a $500 million biogas operation that started in 2018 between Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy, also known as Align Renewable Natural Gas. Align’s first phase involves laying more than 30 miles of pipeline across Duplin and Sampson counties in eastern North Carolina to pipe biogas from the 19 individual hog farms to date that have signed on to a central processing facility slated for construction. The hog farms will install balloon-like structures over waste lagoons to capture methane, process it into natural gas, and sell the gas to provide electricity. Part of the Farm Act includes a fast-track program for hog farmers to become part of the program.
“Modern hog farming is a result of continuous research and innovation, which allows farmers to provide the best care for their animals, protect the environment and ensure food safety for consumers,” Kraig Westerbeek, vice president of Smithfield Renewables, said in a statement. “The benefits of covered lagoons and digestors are well-documented and clear. They are capturing otherwise fugitive emissions and converting them to renewable energy, which is only positive for the environment and the local community. “
Environmental activists are not happy with the project. “They’re basically just putting a tailpipe on and not cleaning up the fundamental source of the pollution — the waste itself,” says Ryke Longest, clinical professor of law and director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University School of Law. Due to backlash, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has agreed to meet later this month to discuss concerns about the impact the fast-tracking permit process would have on low-income communities.