By NICOLE NORFLEET, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. – A North Carolina program to turn pig waste into power has failed to produce results and may mean a state mandate to generate potentially thousands of megawatts of electricity from swine waste will not be met by a deadline two years from now.

As part of state energy law, electric power companies are required to generate nearly 0.1 percent of North Carolina’s total retail electricity sales from swine waste by 2012.

But in the three years since a voluntary, pilot program started, no registered swine farms have produced electricity.

“The pilot program offered an opportunity to show a glimpse of how meeting the mandate would go,” said David Williams with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “I anticipated that there would have been greater results because of the mandate.”

In a state inhabited by nearly as many pigs as people, swine waste has been a recurring issue. North Carolina swine generate about 13 million pounds of manure and urine a day. The waste is normally flushed from barns into open-air lagoons, after which it is sprayed on fields as fertilizer.

In 2007, a state law banned construction of new lagoons and created a program in which power companies would pay for electricity generated by methane emitted from the waste.

Williams said the pilot program’s failure has left him discouraged that the swine waste requirement will be met in the next two years.

One problem with the pilot program is that participating farms have to be served by public utilities to be eligible, said Keith Larick, a supervisor in the water quality division. According to a January report, of the 218 farms that showed interest, 170 of them were ineligible because they were served by electric membership corporation or municipal utilities.

Another large issue with the program is money, Larick said.

“I think farmers are just afraid to make a big investment in their farms right now with the economy,” he said.

The North Carolina pork industry, the second largest in the country, has gone through tough economic times. Several pig producers filed for bankruptcy last year, putting workers out of jobs.

Right now, farmers don’t have the money for extra equipment without the assistance of grants and other funding, said Tommy Stevens, director of environmental services for the North Carolina Pork Council.

“Certainly when times are very difficult, like they have been in the last few years, most producers are just looking at keeping their heads above water,” Stevens said.

Thomas Butler, a swine producer in Lillington who operates a 108-acre farm with his brother, said it would be a while before producing electricity from pig waste would be economically viable for farmers.

Butler had covers put over his waste lagoons two years ago but hasn’t secured enough money yet to get an electric generator, which he said could cost as much as $375,000. Instead, he burns the methane from his lagoons.

Last August, several power suppliers including Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas filed a joint motion requesting a year delay in the swine waste requirement. They have since withdrawn that motion and have solicited proposals for viable swine waste projects.

While the mandate won’t have the same problem as the pilot program did of limiting electricity generation to only farms serviced by public utilities, money for equipment could still be an issue.

Farmers could partner with third-party developers to share in the cost of equipment, said Progress Energy spokesman Scott Sutton. There are numerous arrangements that could be considered, he said.

Depending on proposal responses, the energy companies could ask for a reduction in the requirement, Sutton said. But he said the companies still have time.

“We are having conversations,” he said. “We are in touch with various potential projects. I’m cautiously optimistic that these conversations will lead to contracts.”