Fibrowatt officials have confirmed a delay in its Sampson County project, while reassuring the Sampson County Board of Commissioners of their commitment to having the poultry litter burning plant in the northern part of the county.
Terry Walmsley, vice president of environmental and public affairs for Fibrowatt, spoke to commissioners Monday night about a new law that would modify renewable energy requirements with respect to poultry litter. He said power companies will likely take some time to evaluate the law — and their options.
“It’s now causing pause as they consider how the law will impact them,” said Walmsley.
Senate Bill 886 is an act to authorize the establishment of cleanfields renewable energy demonstration parks in the state. While the law, passed July 9, is said to be structured to benefit the Charlotte-based renewable energy eco-industrial park Reventure, it could also establish a precedent in how the state deals with renewable energy.
He said utilities companies would likely want to step back and evaluate how the new legislation affects 2007 mandates for poultry litter set-asides.
The law seemingly sets back months of negotiations between Fibrowatt and utilities companies in establishing an agreement through which Fibrowatt could obtain a PPA, a long-term deal to sell the renewable energy at the plant. Walmsley has touted the deal as vital to the life and viability of the plant in Sampson.
The recent legislation compounds the delay.
“It has caused a bit of a delay,” Walmsley noted. “There are special provisions at the tail end of this bill that limit some of the set-aside provisions. While we thought we were making a great deal of progress, (power companies) are obligated to go and reevaluate how this affects them.”
The cleanfields act adopts new standards that differ from 2007 legislation that set mandates for use of renewable energy. The 2007 legislation, Senate Bill 3, states that beginning in 2012, North Carolina utilities must generate or purchase 170,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy from poultry waste. The figure climbs to 700,000 megawatt hours in 2013 and 900,000 megawatt hours in 2014 and beyond.
The new law essentially reduces renewable energy mandates from 900,000 megawatt hours to 240,000 megawatt hours for poultry litter.
‘Cautioned’ by delay
Sampson County was announced as the site for Fibrowatt in April 2008. Fibrowatt officials have worked since that time to come to a long-term agreement to sell the energy at the plant — they would not stop now, Walmsley attested.
“The poultry industry is very dependent on this solution,” he said. “This has been delayed two years frankly. We do feel this is a delay — it shouldn’t be viewed as a lack of commitment to this project. We are as committed as we were on the first day. Despite the challenges this might propose, we do continue to work diligently on this project.”
Upon learning of the July 9 legislation, John Swope, executive director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission, told The Independent late last week that he and others were “frustrated and disappointed” with the timing.
“Legislation recently passed might have an impact on Fibrowatt projects in Sampson and Montgomery counties,” Swope echoed to commissioners Monday. “Not whether they happen or not, but the timing of it.”
Just a week prior to becoming aware of the legislation, Swope and Fibrowatt officials agreed the company was as close as ever to hurdling the last obstacle, expressing supreme confidence of having a PPA in hand by the end of summer.
“We were that close to getting the power purchase agreement,” said Swope. “We were thinking in August.”
On Monday, Commissioner John Blanton pressed Walmsley, asking him to evaluate how close Fibrowatt has actually come to obtaining the PPA and progressing the project. Like Swope, Walmsley expressed optimism, but dialed it down in light of the legislation.
“On a scale of 1 to 100, how close are we?” Blanton inquired.
“We’ve been at 100, but now it’s come back,” Walmsley answered. “I can’t reiterate enough how important the power purchase agreement is. It’s that first big goal. We’ve made a lot of progress but not enough.”
The plant would be up and running about four years after the PPA is in hand, Walmsley said. Following that main obstacle, he said a one to two year period of permitting would take place, then another one-and-a-half to two years of construction.
“How optimistic are you?” Blanton again pressed.
“I am optimistic, but cautioned by the delay,” said Walmsley.
Blanton said many Sampson County citizens have asked about the project, sharing uncertainty as to whether the plant — the benefits to the poultry industry, local jobs and tax revenue — would actually materialize locally.
“You know, at some point, you get to the point where you say the hell with it,” said Blanton. “I don’t mind going to war, but don’t put me out on the battlefield and make me wait. I’m going to get killed out there.”
Walmsley said he was sympathetic to those sentiments, and vowed to continue working to reach a solution — and a PPA. However, the power companies could take some time to review the law and what it means for them going forward. It could take a while, or just a couple additional months.
“A large utility is going to step back completely and evaluate how it’s going to affect their industry,” Walmsley stated. “We could see this turn around in a matter of months, depending on how utility companies perceive this.”
“The power purchase agreement is the main hurdle,” Swope added. “We’re going to see if we can shorten the timeframe for that hurdle.”
At the close of Monday’s meeting, several members of Sampson County Citizens for a Safe Environment for the second straight month voiced their displeasure with the prospect of having Fibrowatt in Sampson.
Calypso resident Deborah Kornegay, co-chairwoman of the group for the last decade, has lived on land that has been in her husband’s family for generations. She shared her concerns adverse effects the plant could have on the environment and the health of residents who live in the surrounding area.
She pointed to a petition signed by 40 physicians in Surry County, expressing “supreme concern” for the health of citizens there. The Surry County Board of Commissioners subsequently voted to end negotiations with Fibrowatt. Kornegay and others implored Sampson’s board do the same.
“Gentlemen, as Sampson County commissioners, you have the power to stop Fibrowatt, the power to protect my family and yours,” Kornegay stated. “Please exercise that power.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 121, or by email at email@example.com.