But a new project by North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives proves that it is, in fact, quite powerful.
The methane gas from waste hogs leave behind is being turned into electricity.
"We’ve made a big mistake when we thought that waste was [just] waste," says farmer Tom Butler, who’s been at the forefront of this innovative method.
Butler says when he started his hog farm, Butler Farms in Harnett County, 26 years ago, neighbors complained about the odor. He covered his waste lagoons but quickly learned that the gas forming under the lagoons is quite useful.
"We heard probably 10 or 12 years ago that one day we would make more money from our waste than we did with our pigs," says Butler, "And that is possible [if you have] organic waste."
Before North Carolina’s Co-Ops stepped in, Butler had enough power to sustain his farm. Thanks to the Co-Ops, his farm now produces enough electricity to power at least 28 homes in Harnett County for several hours.
Catherine O’Dell, who is with the South River Electric Cooperation, says "microgrids" serve an isolated group or area. Several years ago, North Carolina’s Co-Ops launched pilot programs to see if microgrids could be a source of energy in more rural areas like Harnett County.
"[It] seems Harnett County would not really be too susceptible to hurricanes, but it also seems [that] every hurricane that comes into North Carolina comes through Harnett County," says O’Dell.
"At a time that the electric grid is not available, is a time that the microgrids can kick in and provide energy."
The Co-Ops have at least five microgrids in eastern North Carolina either in development or already operating. O’Dell says she believes microgrids will become more common for the key role they play, particularly during storms.
"We saw with Superstorm Sandy and other large storms that have come through the area," says O’Dell, "Microgrids could have played a very large role in ensuring that more people had energy in the aftermath of those storms."
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