After a wave of opposition from community residents and corporate leaders at the Clinton Industrial Park — and some concerns from City Council members — NOVI Carolina Digester LLC’s request to open a plant that would digest organic waste to produce renewable electricity was tabled.
Many said they had concerns over odor and traffic, indicating they felt the technology was a viable one but shared adverse effects with the proposed location on the 40-acre tract of land off Industrial Drive, Clinton. NOVI officials said the plant would be a point of pride in the community, and the company would go out of its way to be a good neighbor.
“We think this will be a model facility,” said NOVI Energy President Anand Gangadharan in making his request to the Council. “We really look forward to being a part of this community and a good corporate citizen. Environmentally, I believe this is a very nice step taken for the community.”
The Michigan-based industry’s request for a conditional use permit to locate a “green electricity production facility” off of Industrial Drive, owned by the Clinton 100 Committee, was unanimously recommended with some stipulations by the Clinton Planning and Zoning Board last month. One of those was that the request, as with all, must go before the City Council.
Gangadharan spoke to the request at Tuesday’s Council meeting. He took a packed City Hall Auditorium through an overview of the company and the proposed plant, which would be similar to one currently in operation in Fremont, Mich.
He said the Clinton plant would take 14 months to construct and, once up and running, would produce 4.3 megawatts of renewable electricity. Between 12-20 jobs would be created with the plant’s construction. Gangadharan said the wooded area, about 300 feet of trees, would be left alone and the facility would likely use less than half of the 41 acres, leaving a large buffer.
That plant would be eligible for renewable energy tax credits and the power generated at the plant sold as part of a long-term power purchase agreement with Duke Energy. Gangadharan said the proposed plant is the most modern, clean and environmentally-sustainable solution to dealing with organic waste.
“It processes various non-hazardous organic waste feedstock, such as hog, poultry and other biomass,” he said.
He likened it to the Fremont Community Digester (FCD), a 100,000-ton per year complete mix anaerobic digester and the first commercial-scale anaerobic digester in the United States. FCD, for which NOVI is a managing partner, digests organic wastes into bio-methane, which fuels the plant’s engine-generators to generate 3 megawatts of renewable electricity.
As with the Fremont facility, the Clinton plant would receive and digest organic feedstock. NOVI’s own fleet of trucks will pick up from customers and transport feedstock from throughout the region, doing it via signed feedstock supply contracts with major regional food processors — the company already boasts baby food company Gerber among them — and agricultural businesses. That feedstock is delivered to pre-storage tanks and then mixed into the digesters.
“Since we are bringing in organics, it’s important for us to maintain a high level of cleanliness and manage odors coming in,” said Gangadharan. “While we handle odorous materials, we have a very strong plant for it. All waste is transfered indoors and in enclosed environments, and the odorous air is pulled out through a biofilter. Essentially, you have a fresh air environment coming out of that system.”
Additionally, the plant and its fleet of trucks will be well maintained, with nobody able to discern what type of organic waste is being transported. Gangadharan said the system is working “very well,” as evidenced by the Fremont plant. There are homes, even a lake nearby, and no ill effects in terms of odor, noise or traffic, he noted.
“At the fence line, you won’t even know that we are operating the facility,” he remarked. “Cleanliness is very important to us and odor-control management is something that is taken very seriously at this facility. It is a 100 percent enclosed operation. All unloading is performed inside our buildings and transferred directly to our tanks.”
Gangadharan said he anticipates between four to six truckloads an hour, usually from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. He said it is a very efficient system, and one in which he and others take much pride.
“This is a state-of-the-art facility. It is ranked as one of the best biogas plant technologies in the world,” said Gangadharan, noting that NOVI’s proposal met Clinton’s land development standards. “We don’t believe we are injurious to property value or endanger public health or safety. We not only meet all U.S. standards, we believe we exceed them.”
Mayor Lew Starling asked about the delivery trucks, some of which he understood would involve open-air transports. His concerns with those type of transports, and the possible odorous nature to them, were echoed throughout the public hearing by Council members and citizens.
Gangadharan said a strong fabric would be placed over the open transports, with others unable to tell what is being hauled. He stressed that organic waste, notably agricultural litter, is not being produced by the company but the company is a solution for it. He said NOVI would be working with farmers and others in the community to get their organic waste, whether fruits and vegetables, litter or other waste.
“Generally, anything we pick up is fresh,” Gangadharan said. “Organics, when fresh, generally don’t have any odor or offensive nature to them. It’s when it sits around for a period of time, particularly in summer, that you will have this. We take a lot of pride in removing these things timely so there is not an issue with odor or unsightly stuff.”
Councilman Steve Stefanovich asked about the location, another hot topic of concern. He inquired as to why the one on Industrial Drive was selected. Gangadharan said that in Europe, there are such facilities that are located in the center of cities. In 20 years, residents, instead of simply having trash, they will have trash, recyclables and organics that go to the digester.
“That’s where all communities are evolving to,” he said. “This is a light industrial plant and it’s best set in this industrial setting where you have power, you have natural gas and you’ve got the utilities. It fits very nicely. In looking at a variety of locations, this seemed to be a very good location.”
Many of the other companies in the Industrial Park do not think so.
Martin Kossick, vice president and general manager of DuBose National Energy, read a letter written by DuBose National Energy president Carl Rogers in opposition of NOVI locating to the Industrial Park.
“We presently have environmentally-friendly plants in the park and the owners I have spoken with would like to keep it that way,” Rogers wrote. “From what I have been told about the type of plant, it has the potential to create not only air smell pollution but also water issues.”
Rogers also shared his concern of “a plant of that nature inhibiting other more desirable companies” from locating in Clinton, as relayed by Kossick.
“Please help us to see that this short-term gain for the city and county does not overshadow the very real potential long-term benefits in this park and the community,” Rogers stated.
Doug Apperson, representing DuBose Strapping, DuBose Plastic and DuBose Industries, all of which are located in the Industrial Park, similarly read a letter from DuBose president Charles DuBose expressing his concerns.
“We have spent considerable time, effort and money in what we feel is a very eye-pleasing Industrial Park,” DuBose stated, as read by Apperson. “We believe that investment would be diminished by the addition of this type of facility. Even if the proposed plant was not unattractive, the psychological effect of this type of facility would have a negative impact on the park.
“It is also hard to believe that the raw materials that are used to produce the methane needed for the plant operation can be transported without issues,” DuBose continued. “It seems like there would be property in the county with convenience of location, but without the high visibility to the general public and to the employees and visitors of the park.”
Like Rogers, DuBose also shared concerns on the impact NOVI’s location into the park could affect future industry investments.
“Please understand we are not against the investment of jobs into the community,” DuBose stated, “however we do not consider the NOVI plant a proper fit with the type of industry here.”
John Baxter, general manager of Schindler Corporation, was another who wrote a letter to the City of Clinton stating that he was not opposed to the business or technology, but was opposed to the location.
Nearly a dozen residents shared similar concerns, some who said they live a matter of a few hundred yards away. Noise and odor were among their chief concerns, noting that property values could decrease. Many questioned the location.
“We just feel that’s not the proper place for this type of facility,” said Beverly Best, a resident of Nathan Dudley Road, which backs up to the proposed plant. “It just seems like a facility like this should be in a more secluded area since there are noted drawbacks from renewable energy sources. I just feel like this kind of facility cannot have a positive impact in this community.”
Unlike the Fremont plant that has simply a fence sitting between it and residential homes with no known ill effects, the Clinton plant will have more than triple the amount of property, as well as trees acting as a buffer, Gangadharan noted. Even more property is currently being sought to increase that buffer, he noted.
Economic developer John Swope and Sampson County manager Ed Causey, part of a four-person group that visited the Fremont plant last month, said they were impressed with the plant. Swope said seeing is believing and encouraged others to visit the Michigan plant, even offering to host a trip and pay for it in his budget.
“The reality is, once we start operating, you’re going to find this to be a source of pride in the community, for the technology, for the advancement you’re going to bring into the area and the clean-up you’ll have from an environmental standpoint,” Gangadharan said. “Given some time, we will prove ourselves.”
After about 90 minutes of comments, the Council said they wanted some time and more information. The board unanimously voted to table the matter until the Feb. 4 regular session.
“You’re going to have to do some more convincing before it passes, is what it amounts to at this point,” Starling said to the contingent making the request. “You’ve got three major people in the Industrial Park, plus all these citizens, opposing it. We don’t want to tell you what to do, but it’s obvious work that has to be done. I think if a decision is made tonight, I’m not sure there is enough votes to pass it.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.