NOVI Energy, the Michigan-based company whose name has become well-known locally in recent months, has withdrawn its request to locate an anaerobic digester plant in the Sampson Southeast Business Center in Clinton.
The request, initially presented to the City Council in December, was continued twice, until February and then until Tuesday’s April 1 meeting, at which point Clinton Mayor Lew Starling addressed a packed City Hall Auditorium at the top of the agenda.
Starling said he had just spoken minutes earlier with NOVI president Anand Gangadharan, who withdrew the request.
“I received a call just moments ago from the president of NOVI informing me that they would be withdrawing their request for this location. It was a very cordial conversation,” Starling stated.
The mayor said he expressed his sincere thanks to Gangadharan for working cordially with city staff, and said the process, although at times difficult, was always civil and professional.
“I thanked him for calling. I told him from all (Council) that we understood. This was a very good technology as best I could understand. The only thing in my mind is I did question the location, but I didn’t have any questions about the technology,” Starling said.
NOVI officials were not able to be immediately reached for comment.
In the past month, NOVI Energy representatives have been out in the community to explain the plant’s operations and educate a populous they hoped would support the green company, which proposed a 4.3-megawatt power plant that would digest organic waste — specifically hog waste — into bio-methane, fueling engine-generators to generate renewable energy.
NOVI’s 3-megawatt Fremont Community Digester in Fremont, Mich., is the first commercial-scale anaerobic digester in the nation. NOVI officials were seeking to locate the nation’s second on Industrial Drive, Clinton.
Since NOVI’s possible location was announced, however, many nearby Clinton residents and industry leaders who would be neighbors with the plant voiced opposition. Some residents in Michigan did not do much to ease fears of noise and smell that may emanate from the plant, detailing past experiences, while others in Fremont lauded the plant and how far it has come in less than two years.
Many residents off Nathan Dudley Road and the Cedar Lake and Cedar View communities, all in close proximity to the plant, were firm in their opposition. Many were in attendance at a Q&A session last month at the Agri-Exposition Center, NOVI’s last community push before Tuesday’s public hearing.
At that meeting, NOVI representatives answered every question and said the company’s intention was to be a good neighbor.
“If we thought this was going to be bad, we would not be trying to do this,” said Jim Zimmer, NOVI’s site manager for N.C. development projects. “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 not looking to do something that is dangerous or harmful in any way.”
Zimmer conceded there were start-up woes, but the problems in Fremont had been solved.
“The Fremont plant has taught us a few lessons,” he said. “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.”
A trip to Michigan scheduled for last week so that those locally could see the Fremont plant up close was canceled due to lack of interest. Many residents said they had their minds made up, citing an adverse location as a key factor, but noted they thought the technology was worthwhile and much-needed.
That state-of-the-art technology converts agricultural waste into renewable energy and plant nutrient products, a good match for a community with deep ag roots such as Sampson, company officials said.
“We want to be in Sampson and Duplin county because of the access to the hog waste. That’s critical for us. We see these first two plants (in North Carolina) as a very big step for us as a company,” Zimmer remarked last month, “and potentially as one step toward working with the hog industry to find an alternative way of managing the waste they have. That is what we’re trying to bring to both Clinton and Warsaw.”
A second site is currently proposed for Bruce Costin Road in Warsaw, just outside the West Park-Duplin County Business and Industry Center Industrial Park. with a third site also being scouted. The company is now left to go back to the drawing board for its initial Clinton site. The company has already signed two power purchase agreements with Duke Energy Progress that extend for 25 years, so it is seeking at least two locations.
“We are actively looking for a third site for a third plant,” Zimmer said last month. “We’re not looking for an alternate site to either Clinton or Warsaw. We’re looking for the potential of a third plant and it will most likely end up in either Sampson or Duplin county, but northern Bladen County is a potential because of its proximity to Sampson.”
Starling said it was his hope that a primary NOVI digester location for North Carolina could still be in the Clinton and Sampson community.
“We told them that we hoped they would continue to look in this area — it’s a very needed thing — and he ensured me he would,” the mayor remarked. “He has without prejudice withdrawn his request for this project.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.