A public hearing on an organic digester plant is expected to be delayed so company officials proposing the facility can educate — and ultimately persuade — the community and its industry leaders about the plant’s viability locally.
NOVI Energy has requested a conditional use permit to construct a green electricity production facility on a 40-acre site off Industrial Drive. The matter was tabled by the City Council in December until February’s regular meeting, set for Tuesday. Company officials are expected to request a continuance for the hearing until the Council’s regular meeting in April to allow the company additional time to address concerns brought forward by the community.
“They are putting a plan together for communication and information sessions for the Industrial Park and neighborhood and have asked for more time to implement the plan,” city manager Shawn Purvis said Friday. “As far as I can tell, Council will grant the continuance.”
The matter will be heard, and the continuance considered, at the Council’s meeting Tuesday, Feb. 4, set for 7 p.m. in the City Hall Auditorium.
The company proposes to develop and construct a 4.3 megawatt electric power generation plant that digests organic waste — a variety of agriculture and food waste would be used as feedstock — into bio-methane, which fuels engine-generators to generate the renewable energy.
That request has been met with intense opposition since it was initially made in December. Many community residents have cited the “unknowns” surrounding the plant. Those along Nathan Dudley Road, Cedar View Lane, Cedar Lake Lane, Kristin Drive, Lesley Drive and the adjacent areas said they were against the location due to the potential health and environmental issues and odor that would contribute to a lower quality of life and declining property values.
If approved, the Clinton plant would be the second commercial-scale anaerobic digester in the nation. The 3 megawatt Fremont Community Digester in Fremont, Mich., for which NOVI is a managing partner, was the first.
Anti-NOVI signs have sprouted around the surrounding community in the past month.
“We just don’t feel like it needs to be right behind our house in this neighborhood,” said Kristin Drive resident Brandon Holland. “We just need them to move out somewhere else. There are a lot of unknowns and I don’t feel like we need to be a guinea pig for them.”
The conditional use request, formally for NOVI Carolina Digester I LLC, was tabled by the City Council in December. NOVI company officials have expressed their interest in clearing up some of those “unknowns” in the coming months.
“The people voice concern about the unknowns. That’s our point, we want them to become familiar with the company, proposed plan and the Fremont plant which is an excellent example,” said economic development director John Swope. “We are planning on hosting meetings to provide information as well as taking individuals to the Fremont plant for their firsthand experience.”
NOVI Energy President Anand Gangadharan has previously detailed a completely enclosed transportation and delivery process, and the many steps taken to keep vehicles, the facility and the community free of any leaked waste.
Leaders of big-name local industries DuBose and Schindler, both Industrial Drive tenants, have come out in opposition to the proposed facility. As with residents, local industry leaders cited noise, traffic and odor coming from transporting and dropping off organic waste were among the main concerns, as well as decreasing property values and the loss of industrial prospects that might result.
The Clinton plant would take 14 months to construct and create about a dozen jobs (the number varies from 6 to as much as 21). 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, Gangadharan noted. The electricity produced at the plant would be sold as part of a long-term power purchase agreement with Duke Energy, a two decade-long contract, bringing longevity to the community.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved continuing negotiations with NOVI regarding an incentives agreement that would extend grantbacks over 10 years in return for NOVI’s $22 million taxable investment.
“We think this will be a model facility,” Gangadharan has said. “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.”
NOVI’s own fleet of trucks — between four to six truckloads an hour, usually from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — will pick up from customers and transport organic feedstock to the plant’s pre-storage tanks, where it is then mixed into 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 transferred indoors and in enclosed environments, and the odorous air is pulled out through a biofilter. 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.”
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 works “very well,” as evidenced by a similar plant in Fremont, Mich. There are homes, even a lake nearby, and no ill effects in terms of odor, noise or traffic, he noted.
A four-person group of community residents who visited the plant in November — Swope, county manager Ed Causey, commissioner Albert Kirby and resident Sherrie Smith — attested to the cleanliness of the plant, its harmony with the local community and its indistinguishable characteristics.
Residents and City Council members said they did not believe that group received a fair assessment of the plant as it was a scheduled visit on a rainy Sunday, when the plant was not in operation. However, many others said they did not care whether the plant was normally immaculate, their opposition would not waver.
“I don’t want it over here,” Nathan Dudley Road resident Doug Norris has said. “I don’t care if it’s the nicest plant I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t want it over here.”
NOVI has expressed its intention to talk to residents and industry leaders in the coming months to explain the technology further, and sway them.
“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.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.