A $70 million biomass plant that burns wood products and shredded tires to make electricity could bring about 25 jobs to Wadley, Ga.
“We plan to have it online by the end of 2013 but we’re shooting for summer of 2013,” said Rick Cashatt, CEO of North Star Renewable Energy, the Clayton, Ga., company proposing the project.
The company is working with Jefferson County officials to acquire 25 acres for the plant, which will require permits from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division and has also raised questions among residents concerned about “tire derived fuels.”
According to the company, the plant would burn about 133,500 tons per year of forest products and about 38,500 tons per year of shredded tires to create about 24 megawatts of power.
“They were saying they could only do it if the state would accept the 20 percent tires as part of the mix of biomass,” said Geary Davis, a local resident who has joined environmental groups in questioning the project. “There are also concerns about ash, the source of the tires, air pollution and also the proximity of the plant to the Ogeechee River.”
Cashatt said pollution concerns over the use of tire derived fuel are unfounded.
“People think of tires being burned in a field somewhere and belching black smoke, but this is a controlled burn inside a boiler,” he said, adding that the tire fuel will be made elsewhere and brought to Jefferson County for use in the biomass plant.
Using tire fuel also makes the biomass mix burn hotter – and therefore cleaner – by eliminating incomplete combustion from using pure forest products that have a high moisture content, he said.
“This is a good environmental benefit a lot of people don’t realize,” he said.
The plant’s application for permits remains under review, said Eric Cornwell, stationary source permitting manager in the Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division’s Air Protection Branch.
State officials typically regulate particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other materials, he said, adding that the application also stipulates tire materials would be brought in as fuel and not shredded onsite.
Cornwell said there are about 10 biomass fuel power plants already permitted to operate in Georgia, but only one of them – a facility in Rabun Gap that burns exclusively wood products — is actually in operation.
Cashatt, whose company was also involved in developing the Rabun project with some investors from Virginia, said North Star examined 17 Georgia sites for potential biomass projects several years ago.
The list was later reduced to just five sites, and later to just three, including the one in Jefferson County.
“The 2008 recession stopped a lot of projects dead in their tracks,” he said. “Everyone had hoped this industry would really take off.”
One of the partners in the Wadley project is the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, a non-profit group based in Greenville, S.C., that works to promote forestry related jobs in rural areas, he said.