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NOVI’s local blitz includes Michigan trip, public meeting next week

By Chris Berendt Staff Writer

March 13, 2014

First of two parts

Seeing is believing, and the Sampson County Economic Development Commission and Michigan-based NOVI Energy, in trying to drum up support for a proposed power plant in Clinton, has planned a trip to the Great Lakes Region so locals can see what all the fuss is about.


NOVI Carolina Digester I LLC has requested a conditional use permit to construct a green electricity production facility on a 40-acre site off Industrial Drive in Clinton’s Sampson Southeast Business Center. A public hearing is set for the April 1 City Council meeting.


Leading up to that hearing, NOVI representatives are engaged in a full-out community blitz, which has included interviews with The Independent, talks at local club meetings, radio appearances and meetings and Q&A sessions with industry leaders.


Next Tuesday, March 18, NOVI will be hosting a community meeting at the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center from 6 to 7:30 p.m. for citizens to have the opportunity to meet company representatives and ask questions about NOVI and its proposed project.


And the outreach will go far beyond Clinton and Sampson County, now including a trip to Michigan for locals wishing to see the 3-megawatt Fremont Community Digester (FCD) in Fremont, Mich., for which NOVI is the managing partner.


The FCD is the first commercial-scale anaerobic digester in the nation. The proposed 4.3 megawatt electric power generation plant in Clinton, which is nearly identical in design as the plant proposed here, would be the second. The plant would digest organic waste — mostly hog waste would be used as feedstock — into bio-methane, which fuels engine-generators to generate the renewable energy.


John Swope, executive director for the Sampson EDC, said the Clinton City Council, Clinton 100 Committee, local agricultural leaders, as well as those from neighboring industries and residences, are all invited, among others who have an interest.


“The EDC is recommending that anyone interested in this project — for, against, undecided — should travel to Fremont, Michigan to tour NOVI’s Fremont Community Digester,” Swope said. “We believe seeing is believing — that individuals need to see that plant firsthand, talk to local citizens and return and explain to others what they experienced. We are planning a trip, or two if necessary, to have local citizens visit the plant. The EDC is offering to host these travels as long as the number of travelers is not too many.”


A 3-day trip at the end of March is planned — March 24-26 or March 26-28 — so the travelers have plenty of time.


There is a lot to see, and NOVI officials said they want to be transparent in offering the people of Clinton and Sampson County a full scope of the operation.


“We want to be able to show what we do. We’re very proud of what we do. It’s an environmentally-friendly way of managing a waste stream and producing a renewable energy source,” Jim Zimmer, NOVI’s site manager for N.C. development projects, said in a recent interview. “We want to show people we really aren’t going to be a nuisance neighbor.”


Just last week, NOVI Energy President Anand Gangadharan and Zimmer met for a discussion and Q&A session with DuBose president Charles DuBose, DuBose National Energy president Carl Rogers, Prestage Farms founder Bill Prestage and Schindler Elevator Corporation’s president Chuck Spell and general manager John Baxter. The industry representatives were encouraged to visit the NOVI Fremont Community Digester.


Those industry executives, as well as area residents, are strongly encouraged to participate in the Fremont trip, along with others who have an interest, Swope said.


“If possible, we would like to know who can participate in this trip by this Friday, maybe even Monday, and their preference of the trip being the first half or second half of the week of March 24,” he noted. “We will be reaching out to others who have shown an interest in participating in this trip.”


It is hoped that those wishing to go to Michigan would also be willing to pay their way, but Swope said he knows there may be some who cannot. The EDC is coordinating the trip, booking flights and is prepared to foot the bill, with limits.


“We want to encourage the average citizen to go, but it’s not an open invitation to the world,” said Swope, who noted the EDC could probably afford to pay for about half a dozen people, maybe more. “I’ll use EDC budgeted monies and move some things around. This is prospect recruitment and an opportunity to bring in industry. Instead of spending money to go out and find a good lead, this is a good lead we’re trying to get.”


In recent weeks, NOVI officials have detailed the workings of the plant and attempted to explain anaerobic digestion technology, which is increasingly being used in the country to dispose of organic wastes and generate electricity.


The methane produced at the plant will be used to generate renewable electric power on-site that will then be purchased by Duke Energy Progress, with power purchase agreements already in hand. A main sticking point has been the perceived traffic and odor that would come as a result of the proposed facility.


In replying to those concerns, Gangadharan said all feedstock unloading occurs indoors and all plant buildings are negatively pressurized to prevent odors from escaping the buildings. A bio-filter specifically engineered to scrub odors from the air also ensures any odors from within the plant do not escape outside. Additionally, transport of feedstock will occur in sealed or covered trucks and be fed directly into storage tanks from the tanker trucks.


“We recognize (Clinton residents’) health, our employees’ health and the overall health and safety of the community is paramount. All the feedstock processed at the Clinton facility will be non-hazardous, organic wastes that are already present in and around Clinton,” Gangadharan stated recently.


All plant discharges will be regulated under the plants’s permits, all state and local ordinances will be adhered to and no discharges from the digester will be sent to the city’s sewer system, NOVI’s president attested. Additionally, he said, trucks will not be transporting feedstock materials through the City of Clinton or through residential neighborhoods.


“Our company puts safety first. In the unlikely event of any leaks or spills, our employees are trained to contain the spilled material within the plant buildings and clean it up immediately,” said Gangadharan, who noted that trucks can operate during non-peak hours and use less-traveled roads to alleviate traffic concerns.


Sampson is an important step in NOVI’s growth, and they want to ensure the community is behind them, he stressed.


A second proposed site, NOVI Carolina Digester I, is located in Warsaw on Bruce Costin Road, next to U.S. Cold Storage, just outside the West Park-Duplin County Business and Industry Center Industrial Park. A third site is also being sought. It could be in Sampson as well, but is not being looked at as a back-up plan should the Clinton request fall through, but rather a second separate site for a local community NOVI is seriously targeting.


“We want to be in Sampson and Duplin county because of the access to the hog waste. That’s critical for us. We see these first two plants (in North Carolina) as a very big step for us as a company,” Zimmer has stated, “and potentially as one step toward working with the hog industry to find an alternative way of managing the waste they have.”


It is a step the company cannot take without community support.


“We’re interested in meeting with anybody who would like to have a dialogue with us about what we’re doing, what concerns they might have, so we can help address those concerns,” said Zimmer.


To learn more about the existing Fremont and proposed Clinton facilities, visit NOVI online at novienergy.com and watch a short video at www.novienergy.com/about. To contact the Sampson EDC about the Michigan trip, call 910-592-8921.