Plans for a waste-to-energy plant continue to change as the team behind ReVenture Park gets closer to closing a 20-year deal with Mecklenburg County.

Forsite Development President Tom McKittrick told members of an advisory panel last week that the project “has evolved and continues to.”

McKittrick noted ReVenture has changed dramatically from more than a year ago, when the 667-acre “eco-industrial” park was first announced.

In particular, the project’s anchor, a power plant that will use garbage as fuel, has been downsized to 20 megawatts from 49 megawatts.

The developers also punted plans to press the county’s residential garbage into fuel pellets.

If the project is successful, it will be the first commercial waste-to-energy plant of its kind in the country. Colwich, Kan.-based ICM Inc. has been signed to develop the $156 million gasification plant, which is based on a smaller unit that has operated in Kansas for two years.

“There is no doubt this is a demonstration project,” says Jeremy O’Brien, director of applied research for the Solid Waste Association of North America. O’Brien is a member of the ReVenture Advisory Council.

He supports the project but notes that its technology has “been piloted, but not proven.”

Emissions equal eight SUVs

Power plants that use “refuse derived fuels,” or RDFs, are few and far between in the country.

ReVenture’s developers estimate there are 102 conventional waste-to-energy plants in the United States, but only 13 use RDFs. The rest are conventional mass-burn facilities.

The proposed gasification plant is different. One member of the ReVenture Advisory Council, Chris Hardin, says it’s imprecise to describe the plant as an incinerator because gasification is not a full combustion process.

The process isn’t state-of-the-art. Rather, it’s akin to the process that turns wood into charcoal.

ReVenture’s developers will be required to get a minor-source air-pollution permit, which greatly restricts the level of emissions that would come from the facility.

Hardin, an engineer in the solid-waste industry, says the permit restrictions mean ReVenture’s emissions would equate to those generated by eight SUVs on the road.

Deal valued at $10M annually

Under the pending deal, Mecklenburg County will stop shipping its residential garbage to the Speedway landfill in Cabarrus County when its contract with operator Republic Services ends June 30, 2012.

Instead, the county would pay ReVenture to take the trash for $25 per ton. That’s $1 less per ton than what Mecklenburg pays Republic.

Total value of the deal over 20 years: $200 million

All the county’s waste would then go to a sorting facility on Amble Drive, near the county’s existing recycling center that’s operated by FCR Casella. ReVenture has teamed with FCR to build a $30 million facility to sort the garbage and pull out recyclable metals and plastics.

About 10% to 15% of the waste, including PVC, will be unsuitable as fuel and will be shipped to a landfill, developers say.

ReVenture initially planned to turn the trash into fuel pellets for use at the waste-to-energy plant and to sell to other power companies as a coal substitute. But McKittrick says the pellet part of operations on Amble Drive would require an air permit, which would take too long to secure.

Instead, FCR is looking into different ways of sealing the garbage into air-proof, watertight bags that could be stored for months or years before being used as an engineered fuel at the ReVenture site in northwest Mecklenburg, near Mount Holly.

The ash that remains from the energy-generation process will be taken to a landfill. ReVenture developers say an agreement with an operator is under negotiations.

Approved with conditions

Disposal of that ash was one of 30 concerns raised by the ReVenture Advisory Council, which voted 8-3 on Jan. 14 to support the project’s contract with the county.

The approval came with conditions that include the panel’s continued oversight of the waste-to-energy plant for as long as it operates.

Two council members who voted on the proposal disclosed conflicts on interest.

Ollie Frazier, who voted in favor of the project, is a consultant for Calor Energy, which is part of the ReVenture team. Linda Ashendorf, who voted against the project, works for Republic Services, the Speedway landfill operator.

Both Frazier and Ashendorf are members of the county’s waste-management advisory board, which must now vote on the ReVenture Advisory Council’s recommendation. (Calor consultant Rich Deming is also a member of that board.)

The waste-management advisory panel is expected to vote Feb. 15. County Solid Waste Director Bruce Gledhill will use its input in his negotiations with ReVenture’s developers. Ultimately, a contract will go before the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.

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