November 29, 2012 – Sawdust-powered power plant envisioned for western Mecklenburg

The developer of Charlotte’s ReVenture Park, which last year scrapped plans for a power plant fueled by Charlotte’s garbage, now intends to build a smaller plant to run on sawdust.

Mecklenburg County has issued an air-quality permit for a 1.5-megawatt combined heat and power plant, the first of its kind in the county, on an industrial site on the Catawba River.

The electricity it generates will be sold to ElectriCities, which serves municipal utilities, developer Tom McKittrick said. The plant will also recycle the heat it generates to dry wood for sale to commercial boiler owners.  Construction will begin in about two months, McKittrick said, with completion expected in early 2013.

“This is a very small project, but it’s an anchor renewable energy project, and a lot of other things can pivot off this,” McKittrick said.

ReVenture Park is intended to be an “eco-industrial park” with a range of projects focused on green energy. It will occupy a 667-acre former Superfund hazardous-waste site in western Mecklenburg partly owned by chemical-dye maker Clariant Corp.

ReVenture’s developer has steadily scaled down the size of the biomass-fueled power plant that would be the park’s first big piece.

A $300 million, 45-megawatt plant that would turn Mecklenburg County’s garbage into energy was proposed in 2010. That was later scaled down to a $160 million, 20-megawatt project that would burn 370,000 tons a year of residential waste.

The project came under fire from neighbors of the county’s Foxhole landfill, which would have served as a backup garbage disposal site for surplus garbage.

Mecklenburg’s solid waste board concluded last year the plan needed review by a private consultant, in part because of conflicts of interest among members of two community advisory panels.

Two months later, McKittrick pulled the plug on the concept, saying he had been unable to find a buyer for the electricity.

The plant he now plans would use similar technology with a different fuel.

Called pyrolysis or “gasification,” it superheats biomass – organic material such as paper or wood – to produce a gas that fuels an engine that drives a generator. The engine exhaust would be captured to dry wood for sale.

McKittrick said sawdust from a wood manufacturer would be the plant’s primary fuel. Wooden crates, pallets and tree trimmings could also be used, the air-quality application says.

The technology is designed to release fewer air emissions and make more efficient use of energy. It would use 40 tons of wood fuel a day, according to the application.

McKittrick expects seven or eight 22-ton trucks a day to wheel into the plant, and about four a day to leave with dried fuel.

Electricity generated from biomass earns renewable-energy credits that help utilities meet state green-energy mandates. In 2010, N.C. legislators agreed to award ReVenture three times the normal number of credits, making it more valuable to buyers.

Mecklenburg County classifies the proposed plant among the smallest air pollution sources it regulates. It’s expected to release about five tons a year of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to the smog that plagues Charlotte, and 10 tons a year of hazardous pollutants.

A leader of a group of riverfront property owners questions why ReVenture didn’t notify the surrounding community of the latest plan. The park’s developers have held frequent public meetings in the past.

“It just appears like somebody is back-dooring somebody,” said Tom Davis of the Catawba River Group. McKittrick “should have called another meeting.”

Davis said he’s worried that, given its scope and frequent changes of plan, ReVenture will balloon to dimensions that hurt the community. “This is just the first step,” he said.

McKittrick said he saw no need to alert the community to the latest plan.

“We have a substantially less controversial project – this is no more than an industrial boiler (air) permit,” he said. “We will certainly look, as this project evolves, to share with the public what we’re doing out there. We have nothing to hide.”

As in most air permit applications, no one asked for a public hearing before Mecklenburg County issued a permit in July. Air-quality director Don Willard said he judged that the size of the plant and its emissions didn’t warrant a special notice to the community.

By | 2012-12-04T16:45:52+00:00 December 4th, 2012|News|