Biomass Plant Hearing Today

You can ask questions and expect answers.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Environmental Protection Division (EPD) Air Protection Branch issued a Press Release on April 12, 2010 announcing a meeting:

EPD will hold a question and-answer (Q&A) session and a public hearing on Tuesday, April 27, from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room in the Valdosta City Hall Annex. The city hall annex is located at 300 N. Lee Street.
The subject is “on Proposed Biomass-Fired Power Plant Application Submitted by WireGrass Power, LLC”

You can also submit questions and comments in writing:

EPD will accept format comments at the public hearing and in writing until May 4, 2010.

The press release gives an erroneous location for the draft permit. A bit of tarzanning around on finds it in a more obscure location. This is what the permit is about:

Construction and operation of a 45 MW (gross) biomass-fired power generation facility consisting of a 626 MMBtu/hr heat input capacity bubbling fluidized bed (BFB) boiler (B-1) firing woody biomass, sewage sludge and natural gas (during startup), a 150 hp diesel fired pump engine, a mechanical draft cooling tower, a hog tower for storing woody biomass and an ash silo for storing bottom ash and flyash from the boiler.
The draft permit is 15 pages long, with quite a bit of detail. For example:
.13 The Permittee shall not discharge or cause the discharge into the atmosphere from Boiler B-1, emissions of mercury in excess of 7.1 pounds per 24-hour period. [40 CFR 61.52(b)]
Perhaps someone with more knowledge of mercury can say how toxic that might be.

For more detail, here is the permit application from Wiregrass Power, LCC.

I am generally in favor of the activities of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority in attracting new business to area. However, the more I dig into this biomass plant, the less I like it.

If it burns sewage sludge, it’s an incinerator. Why isn’t it being permitted as an incinerator? And why can’t we have clean incinerator technology such as is deployed in Europe?

For that matter, the first condition imposed by the county when rezoning was approved may actually prohibit burning sewage sludge:

1. Only biomass fuel shall be used to generate electricity at the plant site, except for start-up operations that may require the use of natural gas or diesel fuel for a short period of time (not to exceed three calendar days) to stabilize boiler combustion. Eligible biomass fuel shall at no time during start-up or any other time of operation include any animal byproducts, animal waste, tires, coal or any materials other than what has been presented in the letter of intent with the rezoning application submitted on May 5th, 2009.

One of the main points of biomass is supposed to be that it’s clean, renewable energy. So why does a biomass plant produce twice as much CO2 as a coal plant?

I’d like to know why Lowndes County and Valdosta don’t do what Texas has done, and encourage solar energy.

Even better, instead of cutting down trees just to burn them while increasing flooding, why not promote reforestation instead. Reforestation produces twice as many jobs as biomass, while reducing flooding. With no toxic emissions.

Back on May 10, 2009, the VDT quoted the manager of Plant Mitchell outside of Albany:

according to Plant Manager Ronnie Walston. Here in the South, “We don’t have the wind or the solar…”
Well, that’s funny, since just last week the VDT noted about Wiregrass Power, LLC in Lowndes County:
The industry has applied for a United States Department of Agriculture renewable energy loan to pay for the construction of the GEFA-sanctioned solar photovoltaic electric generating facility. They received the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority grant at the end of the week and will have six months to complete the project.

The industry has also approved a Georgia utility company to install the connectivity/transmission lines to the solar photovoltaic facility.

The City of Valdosta approved the industry to build its facility on the two acres of land, which is adjacent to the Wiregrass Power, LLC Biomass Electric Generating Plant.

Germany is rapidly expanding solar power much farther north than south Georgia. Florida has the largest solar plant in the country and the University of Central Florida is deploying solar training centers. The state of Georgia last year instituted a 35% state income tax rebate on solar, wind, and other renewable energy installation. Valdosta and Lowndes County can get help pull the state ahead in solar energy.

So I wonder, does the Industrial Authority have to promote any potential jobs, even when it’s only 25 jobs at the cost of toxic emissions and increased flooding? Maybe the Industrial Authority’s time would be better spent promoting solar and reforestation. Why not ask Wiregrass Power, LLC to build a bigger solar facility and not build the incinerator?

John S. Quarterman