After an unsuccessful attempt to locate in Clinton two years ago, NOVI Energy is poised to locate not one, but two, anaerobic digester power plants in Sampson following county commissioners’ approval of incentives for those facilities, which would be just the second and third such operations in the United States.
Public hearings were held at Monday’s Sampson County Board of Commissioners to consider incentive agreements with NOVI Digester I, LLC and NOVI Digester II, LLC.
The county ultimately decided to offer performance-based business incentive payments to both NOVI Carolina Digester I, LLC and NOVI Carolina Digester II, LLC over a five-year period in the amount of $522,348.50 each, broken down in steadily decreasing amounts from $112,296 in year 1 to $96,643.50 in year 5.
In return, the company will provide a taxable investment of $25 million, tax revenues of about $1.7 million over the five-year period and employment of 18 full-time jobs at an average annual salary of $38,000 for each location.
“They will undertake these projects simultaneously and they estimate they will be completed in the third quarter of 2017,” said John Swope, executive director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission.
In Sampson, Michigan-based NOVI Energy is proposing to develop and operate two anaerobic digester power plants — the second and third such commercial-scale plants in the United States — that would each produce 4.2 megawatts of renewable electric energy for sale on the electric grid system. The plants would each digest organic agriculture waste that would produce bio-methane gas, which would the plant’s engines to generate the electricity
The proposed site for NOVI Carolina Digester I, LLC is over about 40 acres located within a larger tract of property on the western side of Clive Jacobs Road, approximately 0.6 miles south of N.C. 24. NOVI Carolina Digester II, LLC is proposed for a roughly 80-acre trace located on the southern side of Tomahawk Highway/N.C. 41, approximately 1.7 miles north of N.C. 210.
Swope noted that NOVI already has power purchase agreements to sell the power to Duke Energy.
“They have the technology, the capability and the experience in doing this,” Swope stated, later adding, “We are very familiar with this operation.”
Swope, county manager Ed Causey and Commissioner Albert Kirby were part of a small group that visited the existing 3-megawatt digester in Fremont, Mich. when a request was initially made by NOVI at the end of 2013 to build a similar plant on a 40-acre tract in the Sampson Southeast Business Center in Clinton. The request was ultimately withdrawn in April 2014 in the wake of opposition by industry leaders and city residents.
“This would be identical to that operation,” Swope noted. “I found no reason at all that this wouldn’t fit in our industrial park in Sampson County. I think this will be no problem and cause no negative feedback.”
The waste will be transported to the plant in clean, sealed stainless steel trucks, Swope said. Transporting hog waste and the odor that comes from that is a “questionable subject that gets some people excited,” he stated, but he does not foresee any of those issues arising. He said he smelled no odor outside the Fremont plant nor heard any irritating noises.
“I have every confidence that it will be no issue,” he remarked. “If there was some type of leak … I think we would’ve noticed it.”
Resident Barbara Faison asked whether Swope or others would build a house next to the facility. Swope said he would not hesitate. Causey expounded, concurring that while he prefers farmland, he wouldn’t shy away from locating near the digester.
“I would be perfectly fine with this facility being located there,” the county manager said, noting that having trucks passing by is not out of the ordinary in a rural setting. “I would not see a distinction between the two. I do not think it would be a problem.”
Kirby said he also discerned no odors while visiting the plant in Michigan back in 2014, but said his alarm arose in the wake of the “uproar” in Sampson during NOVI’s attempt to locate in Clinton.
“Nobody wanted it,” the commissioner said. “I was sold when I went (to Michigan) but when I came back here, there was a group of people who were adamant they just didn’t want it here. Now it’s being placed in my district. I don’t know how to think.”
He said there are some, not a lot, who have shared concerns with him about the plant “but they aren’t packing the (auditorium in opposition), and it’s not a densely-populated area,” he conceded.
“The ideal place for this digester plant is a place that is less-populated, so in that sense the move is better,” Kirby remarked. He lauded the benefits of the plant in dealing with hog lagoon waste. “We could be talking about lifting the moratorium on lagoons. I cannot imagine a better fit for everyone. My only issue is the feedback that I have gotten, but it has not been a mass. I really couldn’t smell anything (at the Michigan plant).”
If approved, Swope said, other plants in Sampson and the surrounding area could follow.
“Once they can prove these plants are benign, they envision building other plants because they know where the hog population is,” said Swope, noting other types of ag waste can be used, including disposed produce.
Kirby again praised the potential benefits of the digester, and Commissioner Harry Parker echoed those points.
“My area would be in compliance with this, because it’s not around any subdivisions or houses,” Parker said, speaking on the Harrells location. “It is isolated. I, for one, would welcome that type of industry down there. I have not heard anyone say anything against it.”
“We are an agricultural county,” chairman Billy Lockamy added. “We definitely have hogs, I do too. Any way we can clean the area and clean the water up would be a benefit to the county as a whole.”
The vote came down 4-1 on both NOVI Carolina Digester I and Digester II. While offering comments speaking to NOVI’s benefits, Kirby ultimately dissented on both requests.
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