Chris Berendt Staff Writer
January 4, 2014
After much discussion, the City of Clinton has negotiated the needed steps to be eligible for a federal grant that would fund half the cost to extend infrastructure to biofuels plant Chemtex.
Carolina Cellulosic Biofuels (Chemtex) is currently in the development stages of locating a $200 million plant on a 40-acre site at Clinton Industrial Rail Park on Turkey Highway. The plant, which would be the first commercial-scale, advanced biorefinery in the United States, is expected to be operational by 2016. State leaders announced the plant’s location to Sampson in early December, however local officials have been planning for the refinery’s arrival for some time.
The refinery would make ethanol from plants other than corn, producing 20 million gallons per year of cellulosic biofuel from locally grown energy grasses, agricultural residues and woody biomass. The company engineered and constructed the world’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Crescentino, Italy, which began operations in December 2012.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is currently considering a request for federal assistance from the City of Clinton to construct critical infrastructure improvements to support Carolina Cellulosic Biofuels.
Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), EDA is conducting an assessment of the potential of the proposed project to affect the environment and historic properties.
The project includes the extension of approximately 7,200 feet of gravity sewer and the extension of approximately 4,800 feet of waterline. The project will be located along Chestnut Mill Branch south of the proposed industrial site on N.C. 24 and includes lines along Rowan Road, Southwest Boulevard and Fontana Street.
“In order to provide Carolina Cellulosic Biofuels with the necessary water and wastewater utilities, the city will need to install $3.5 million in infrastructure,” said city manager Shawn Purvis. “To mitigate the cost, the city is applying for an EDA grant to cover half the cost of the project.”
Extending that water and sewer service to the N.C. 24 Industrial Park is a $3.5 million endeavor. Along with $650,000 in Rural Center funds, the city is hoping to utilize the EDA grant, which would total $1,758,150.
The EDA asked the city to submit a full application for grant funding toward the infrastructure, which required the city to conduct a public hearing to receive any comments regarding the potential impacts of the project on environmental and historical properties. All affected property owners were notified, but no one spoke during the Dec. 17 hearing.
Factoring in Rural Center and potential EDA funding, that still leaves needed financing of approximately $1.1 million. Purvis said there is the potential of $869,000 annually, possibly as high as $1.3 million, in revenues from Chemtex.
State leaders tout project
Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker announced in early December that Chemtex, referred to as Biochemtex, will be locating its new cellulosic biofuels production operations in Sampson. The company will create 65 new jobs and invest approximately $200 million over the next three years.
“Biochemtex’s decision is further proof that the biofuels industry is positioned for growth across our state,” McCrory said in a prepared statement last month. “We have the qualified talent, strong business climate and attractive quality of life that companies need to succeed. We also have the agricultural capacity and flexibility to provide profitable energy crop options for North Carolina farmers and cost advantaged cellulosic feedstocks for Biochemtex and the advanced biofuels industry.”
Biochemtex will operate in North Carolina as Carolina Cellulosic Biofuels, which was established in early 2013 as a special purpose vehicle for delivering the first commercial scale cellulosic bio-refinery utilizing purpose grown energy crops in North America.
“Biochemtex is excited to bring our PROESA technology platform and our partners to eastern North Carolina,” said Guido Ghisolfi, CEO and owner of Biochemtex. “We’ve already engaged with regional farms and farmers for the supply of energy crops and we see great opportunity for growth and additional projects where regional infrastructure matches need.”
State officials credited many organizations at the state level, including the N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Community Colleges, N.C. Department of Agriculture, N.C. Cooperative Extension and the Biofuels Center of North Carolina, in seeing the project come to fruition. They also lauded Sampson County, the City of Clinton and Sampson County Economic Development.
The average annual wage for the new jobs will be approximately $47,000 plus benefits. The Sampson County average annual wage is $30,822.
“Biochemtex and various state organizations have worked long and hard on this major development utilizing sustainable new technologies and cellulosic energy crops and I’m thrilled to have the new jobs, corresponding agricultural demand and capital investment for eastern North Carolina,” said Sen. Brent Jackson.
“I applaud the hard work that was done at making this jobs announcement a reality,” said Rep. Larry Bell. “Our job-ready workforce will serve Biochemtex well, and together we will boost Eastern North Carolina’s economy.”
Project information is available for review at Clinton Public Works & Utilities, located at 200 John St. in Clinton, 910-299-4905.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.