Wood Waste Electric Plant Seeks State Approval

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The Columbus County landfill may soon become home to a $22 to $26 million electricity producer.

Columbus Renewable Energy, LLC (CRE) filed an application on Dec. 3 with the state’s public utilities commission seeking a certificate of public convenience and necessity.

The 10-megawatt landfill gas and wood waste biomass electric generating facility will be located at the Columbus County landfill at New Hope and could begin operations as early as December 2013, according to state documents.

Tom Koch is a member of CRE and working as a developer of the project.

The operation will utilize about 150,000 tons of wood waste per year and will operate 24-hours a day with three shifts, he said. It would employ 10 to 12 full time employees he said.

“Trucks coming and going do not have to 24-7,” Koch said.

An N.C. State University study suggested within a 20-mile radius of the landfill there is more than a million tons of waste wood available annually.

Koch said the wood waste might include fallen trees and wood from the thinning of forests, among other sources.

Koch said it is “pretty attractive” to farmers who planted pulpwood they now are having trouble selling.

He said tobacco land planted in pulpwood is now unfruitful for landowners.

“Now, nobody wants to buy the pulpwood,” he said. “ I think it is pretty neat and will be really great for the county.”

“Most of the (10 acre) space will be taken up for chip storage,” Koch explained, with the operation being similar in size to a sewer plant.

Koch said wood chip would be blown into a “fluidized” bed inside a boiler turbine.

“It would never hit anything,” Koch said. “It is burned in the air and burns really, really clean with a minimal amount of ash.”

Koch admits there will be “some smoke” but the location at the landfill makes it ideal.

“It is about as unobtrusive as possible,” Koch said. “You put landfills where it doesn’t bother people and we are putting this plant in the same place.”

Koch said a number of resumes have already come in from local applicants, and some have experience with the process.

A much larger wood biomass energy facility is located in Kenansville, Koch said.

“The vision that (County Economic Developer) Gary Lanier has for waste steam from the process to heat greenhouses in my opinion is a good thing,” Koch said. “The county has a perfect storm.”

Southeastern Community College will use the greenhouse as part of its ag-biotech program.

“With the community college involved with plant cloning in greenhouse, it is like an orchestra,” Koch said.

A buyer of the power is yet to be secured and much more permitting and planning is needed, he said.

“There is a whole lot of hurdles we have to cross before we get there,” Koch said.

Koch said his experience with landfill gas projects began in 1987, and via his work with Curtis Engine and Equipment, his involvement with other green energy projects expanded to include many.

While the firm was formed in February 2012, its offices are located in Annapolis, Md., according to N.C. Public Utilities Commission filings.

The heat and power plant will use a 12 megawatt Ebara steam turbine to produce electricity to sell to local energy providers. The system requires 75 TPH of steam at 45 bars (652 PSI at a temperature of 440 degrees C or 824 degrees F, according to the utilities commission filing.

“The broiler and burner will be matched to the requirements of the system. The fuels will be landfill methane (10 percent) and waste wood in the form of chips (90 percent).”

The local delivery point of the power is anticipated at the intersection of Power Station Road and Edwards Street.

Steam produced by the operation will heat greenhouses under construction on the property.

The plan is subject to an Interconnection Agreement with Brunswick Electric Membership or Progress Energy Carolinas and a power purchase agreement with the N.C. Electric Membership Cooperative.

Columbus Renewable Energy “anticipates the need for an air quality permit and a storm water and erosion control permit from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.”

The documents list Kenneth Binnix as General Manager of Columbus Renewable Energy.

In late November, Columbus County commissioners adopted a lease agreement with the start-up firm before the agreement was written.

Officials said the firm had to meet a December deadline and the item not on an agenda was adopted with a unanimous vote of the board.

The one page lease gives Columbus Renewable Energy a 10-year lease on 10 acres of county-owned property within the boundaries of the landfill property located at 107 Landfill Road.

CRE will pay the county $1,000 per year beginning at the construction of the facility and each year thereafter.

If the firm fails to begin construction within 18 months from the effective date of the Nov. 27 contract, the agreement becomes null and void, according to terms of the one-page contract.

“Profit sharing, use of methane gas, use of county-owned weigh scales at the county landfill and other considerations will be negotiated and documented in future agreements,” according to the lease.

The lease expires in November 2022 with a six-month notice of intent to extend the term required and negotiation of the annual rental required at that time.

In September 2012, Cy Jamison, president of Columbus Renewable Energy, shared his firm’s plans to use wood chips to fuel a $22-$26 million electricity generating facility on land at the former landfill.

“This is not a big one,” Jamison said. “It’s small.

“It’s something positive from an economic standpoint,” Jamison said, adding that the project would not include the burning of treated wood or hazardous materials.

“This is only clean wood,” Jamison said. “This is a green project.”

The plant will offer “good-paying” jobs he said. “The manager will make about $80,000 to $100,000 and there will be technicians.”

Jamison suggested the plant, which will purchase its wood products from multiple suppliers, would have added economic benefit to landowners thinning their forestland, and to transporters and suppliers.

“It will create spin-off jobs in the wood industry within a 50-mile radius,” Jamison said.

He added that the plant could accept leaf and limb from local towns, saving landfill space and reducing costs to customers.

Jamison, who resides in Montana, is a former director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for the U.S. Department of the Interior under the Bush Administration from 1989 to 1993.

His interest in a project at the landfill came via another business connection he has to Columbus County, the Boys and Girls Home of Lake Waccamaw.

The Lake Waccamaw non-profit is a client of Ken Woosley and Associates, a professional firm that provides public relations and federal government relations counseling to a variety of organizations throughout the nation. Jamison is an affiliate.

Columbus County Economic Developer Gary Lanier said the proposal was worthwhile because it would create jobs.

Jamison told commissioners he was impressed with the warm welcome he received from county staff, Lanier and Public Works Director Kip McClary.

Jamison said at the time most places give you many reasons “why you can’t do something. It is refreshing to see somebody who wants to do something.”

Biomass burning is recognized as a renewable energy source by both the federal government and state and as such is eligible for a number of tax credits, subsidies and incentives like those offered to solar power and wind power producers.

Not all advocates for green energy see it as such.

The Partnership for Policy Integrity, founded by an ecologist, is among them.

“Much of what you’ve probably heard about biomass energy – that it’s clean, carbon neutral, and friendly to forests – is untrue,” the organization claims, arguing that an Environmental Protection Agency suspension of permitting related to carbon emissions by such producers means that “plants will rush to be built and thus be grandfathered in as exempt from carbon accounting.”

State law requires notice of such public utilities filings be published in daily newspapers. No such notification is required to be published in local non-daily papers.

The CRE request is filed under Docket No. SP-2365 with the public utilities commission.

The public notice reads that if a complaint is received within 10 days after the last date of publication of the notice a public hearing is required.

Persons desiring to a lodge complaints may file statements to that effect with the commission, according to the public notice online.

Such statements should reference Docket No. SP-2365 and be addressed to the Chief Clerk, North Carolina Utilities Commission, 4325 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699.

Statements may also be directed to Robert P. Gruber, Executive Director, Public Staff – N.C. Public Utilities Commission, 4326 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699 or to the Honorable Roy Cooper, Attorney General of N.C., 9001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699, according to the public notice.

 

By NICOLE CARTRETTE, Staff Writer, The News Reporter