A trip to Michigan aimed at better acquainting local residents with the type of anaerobic digester operation currently proposed for Clinton has been canceled, with lack of participation from key parties — neighboring residents and City Council members among them — cited as a primary reason.
In recent weeks, NOVI Energy representatives have been out in the community to explain the plant’s operations and educate a populous they hope will support the green company. That continued Tuesday night.
Jim Zimmer, NOVI’s site manager for N.C. development projects, and Sampson Economic Development Commission executive director John Swope held a public information meeting Tuesday on NOVI’s proposed project, which included a candid 90-minute question and answer session at the Sampson Agri-Expositon Center’s Heritage Hall.
Mostly Nathan Dudley Road and Cedar Lake community residents made up the large crowd at the session, during which Zimmer answered every question asked and said it was the company’s goal to be as transparent as possible.
Prior to Wednesday’s official cancellation of the trip, slated for this Sunday, March 23, to Tuesday, March 25, Zimmer said NOVI was not driving the agenda at all, and that it was completely up to the visitors as to what they wanted to see and when they wanted to see it. NOVI was an open book, he said.
“We don’t want anybody to think we’re hiding anything,” Swope added.
The 3-megawatt Fremont Community Digester in Fremont, Mich., is the first commercial-scale anaerobic digester in the nation. NOVI proposes to build the nation’s second digester, a 4.3-megawatt power plant nearly identical in design to Fremont’s, on Industrial Drive, Clinton.
The plant digests organic waste into bio-methane, which fuels engine-generators to generate renewable energy.
Since NOVI’s possible location was announced, many nearby Clinton residents and industry leaders who would be neighbors with the plant have voiced opposition. Some residents in Michigan have not done much to assuage fears of noise and smell that may emanate from the plant, detailing past experiences. Zimmer conceded there were start-up woes, but the problems in Fremont have been solved.
“The Fremont plant has taught us a few lessons,” he said, noting start-up problems in early 2012 were resolved and redesigns implemented for Clinton’s plant are expected to shore up those issues before they occur. “The first year of operation of a facility is always the one that is going to identify those problems. We will have some start-up issues in Clinton, guaranteed, but we will not have as many as we had in Fremont because we were able to learn those lessons and incorporate those into the new design.”
Many at Tuesday’s meeting asked about the transport process and odor.
Over the course of a 25-year period — the Duke Energy Progress power purchase agreements extend that long — there is bound to be some odor when mechanical issues arise, but those will be few and far between, Zimmer indicated.
All feedstock unloading occurs indoors and all plant buildings are negatively pressurized to prevent odors from escaping the buildings. A bio-filter — in Fremont, it is a three-story mass filled with wood chips, and would be larger in Clinton — specifically engineered to scrub odors from the air also ensures any odors from within the plant do not escape outside. It eats bacteria and emits carbon dioxide and water, he further explained.
“It’s one of those things that if you haven’t seen it, it’s incredibly hard to believe it works,” he attested, “but it does.”
Kristin Drive resident Brandon Holland expressed his concerns about the noise. There would be about 50 trucks a day during 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., about four to five an hour, company officials have said. However, Zimmer said his expectation would be that transports would primarily be made between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., narrowing that window.
Primarily the digesters would be fueled by hog manure, however dissolved air flotation (DAF), a residue produced as a result of the wastewater treatment process in swine processing facilities, would also be used. Transport of feedstock will occur in sealed (for the more potent manure) or covered trucks (for the DAF) and be fed directly into storage tanks from the tanker trucks.
There would be no poultry litter, no feathers and no dead animals, Zimmer noted.
There would be two by-products produced as part of the process, including a liquid effluent, which would be a low-nitrogen content water that can be used as fertilizer, and a solid inorganic compound similar to a compost. That compost material is actually being bagged up in Fremont and sold to Home Depot and some nurseries. Zimmer said.
NOVI is utilizing a state-of-the-art technology that converts agricultural waste into renewable energy and plant nutrient products, a good match for a community with deep ag roots, company officials said.
“That is what we’re trying to bring to both Clinton and Warsaw,” said Zimmer, noting the second site proposed for Bruce Costin Road in Warsaw. “Those two projects individually would be somewhere around $35 million investment and as part of that 20 jobs associated with each facility. We would also be requesting annexation into the city, so we would be part of the tax base of Clinton.”
‘An excellent company’
Zimmer pointed out that NOVI already has plans to work with a major hog integrator, which would provide all the waste needed during the start-up, with other contracts acquired during the roughly 15 months of construction leading up to the plant being operational.
“We want to try to create a win-win situation for the people we’re teaming with on these contracts,” he remarked. “We’re primarily looking for material in a 5-mile radius of the plant, but we know we can get out to 15 miles for the Clinton site. In Warsaw, there is actually a higher concentration, and not just from this integrator’s farm. Within 5 miles of Clinton, if I look at just hog farms, I can get almost 60 percent of the manure I need.”
Residents said they were not against the technology, but questioned the site.
“The technology is fantastic and everybody here thinks it’s a great thing,” said Doug Norris, who noted a 200-acre site in southern Sampson that houses 160,000 hogs, and all the scraper systems needed for waste removal from the operation. “Go to the source and build the plant. What you add in construction costs you’ll save in transportation costs.”
“Location, location, just like real estate,” resident Larry Harrington added. “I guarantee you can find property much cheaper than it is here in this industrial park.”
A site needs access to lines and natural gas, which are readily found in industrial parks.
“We’ve looked at well over a dozen sites, and so far the biggest challenges has been finding both the Duke Progress lines and gas,” Zimmer noted.
Resident Dennis Best said he felt that the plant’s location could potentially “butcher” the surrounding communities. Zimmer said that, in no way, was NOVI’s intention, nor is it what would happen.
“If we thought this was going to be bad, we would not be trying to do this. I know you don’t believe that and I know there’s no way I can convince you of that,” Zimmer remarked, “but honestly, we’re not looking to bring something in here that is going to destroy property values, or the health or safety of anybody. We’re going to have employees working there. The health and safety of your families and our employees is important. We’re not looking to do something that is dangerous or harmful in any way.”
As Tuesday’s meeting came to a close, some community residents said they had no desire to go to Fremont because their minds were already made up. Best said he doesn’t need to go to Fremont to know there will be an odor.
“I bet you there won’t be. I bet you there won’t be,” said Swope. “I’m serious. I’ve been there. It’s no lie. Everybody has an opinion. That’s why we are inviting people to go to see it for themselves.”
That will not happen now, as Swope updated Wednesday.
“We learned last night that due to schedule conflicts no Clinton City Council member can make this trip to tour the Fremont Community Digester. Also we have no residents from the Cedar Lake/Nathan Dudley Road area who have shown an interest in making this trip,” Swope said via email. “Those two groups were the main purpose for making this trip. After considering the cost of the trip to Fremont and those who have committed to participate in that trip we have concluded that it is not a cost that meets the value of the expense.”
While some in Michigan have shared opposition to the plant there, others have praised the operation.
Michele Ribant, director of the Neighborhood and Economic Development and zoning administrator for the City of Fremont, wrote Clinton Mayor Lew Starling sharing her support of the operation.
“I am happy to note that they have been an excellent company to have in our community,” stated Ribant, who worked extensively through the planning, permitting, construction and early operations of the FCD. “NOVI has delivered on their promises.”
Any issues NOVI faced during the initial start-up phase were addressed and resolved, she noted.
“NOVI has gone to great lengths to be a good corporate neighbor to both the other industrial park businesses as well as to their residential neighbors,” Ribant stated in the letter. “NOVI has been very responsive to any suggestions for improvement that they have received. They have become a fabric of this community.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.