Wood-burning Electric Plant Clears First State Review

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A $22 to $26 million, 10 megawatt woodchip burning electric plant planned for a site at the Columbus County landfill at New Hope is slowly making progress toward obtaining permits.

A state clearing house review, which provides feedback from a number of regulating agencies, has identified a number of air quality, solid waste and other permits Columbus Renewable Energy will likely be required to obtain.

The review was completed Jan. 17 and suggests an air quality and landfill gas modification/solid waste permit are among those required.  

Gary Lanier, economic developer for the county, said obtaining a power purchase agreement with an electricity provider is still in the works.

“You have to get a power purchase agreement,” Lanier said. “I do know they are working through that process. As far as anything with the design of facility, they have not gotten into retaining an engineer or architect.”

In December, the firm filed an application with the N.C. Public Utilities Commission for a certificate of need and public necessity for the new renewable energy facility.

Lanier said the plan was to “go ahead” with the notice and public comment, and to continuing to work on getting a power purchase agreement in place.

“The most recent conversations I had were about two weeks ago,” Lanier said.

In recent weeks the firm has filed other required notices with the utilities commission and began publishing required and optional public notices.

Lanier said the goal is to “convert the landfill to a modern green production center that will include ag biotech and renewable energy projects.”

Lanier said there is potential via a separate company for a small solar farm at the landfill site, also.

“They are (the undisclosed solar firm) looking into the possibilities of doing a farm like that at the landfill or not,” Lanier said. “They are evaluating the financial feasibility of putting a solar farm there. That is basically land sitting there doing nothing for the county.

“A lot would be tied to the (Columbus Renewable Energy) co-gen facility,” Lanier said. “All the pieces kind of need to fit together.”

Lanier doesn’t foresee any permitting issues with the facility that he and company officials maintain will burn only clean wood chips and leaf and limb debris.

“They are not interested in any wood with paint that could create an issue with ash content,” Lanier said. “They just can’t take that kind of risk. They are just not interested in burning that kind of stuff.”

“All of these sort of things (permitting) would be done preconstruction,” Lanier said. “Nobody is going to penetrate the landfill. Nothing is going to be touched with the landfill.”

Lanier said the preferred site near the landfill on county-owned land is located in an area formerly dug for soil covering.

Once completed, which could be as early as December 2013, the facility would employ about 12 to 15 full time workers.

“Some additional jobs would be created and supported in the timber industry here locally,” Lanier said. “They are going to be buying some woodchips.”

Renewable energy projects continue to spread across the county, Lanier said.

There is one known solar farm in operation along Midway Road with at least five more in the works.

“Apparently eastern North Carolina is a good location and a lot are going into eastern part of the state,” Lanier said. “There is still a lot of interest in solar farms.”

Solar farms are taxed at a reduced rate and exempt “from about 80 percent of cost,” Lanier said.

“A $20 million solar farm under state law is taxed at $4 million rate which still brings in over $30,000 to the county for every solar farm that comes in,” Lanier said. “And there are taxes on the land there to start with.”

Lanier said he did not know if there were similar exemptions for a cogeneration facility like the one Columbus Renewable Energy has planned.

“I don’t know exactly how much, if any, would be exempt from taxation but obviously I want to see the land utilized and jobs created,” Lanier said.

Any written complaint received within 10 days of the publication notice (Jan. 17 to Feb. 7) could lead to a public hearing on the wood burning facility.

Public comments in reference to Docket No. SP-2365, Sub 0 can be submitted to the Chief Clerk of the N.C. Public Utilities Commission, 4325 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-4325.

 

By NICOLE CARTRETTE, Staff Writer, The News Reporter