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Speakers favor Halifax power plant

Three speakers went on record Monday night in support of a wood-fired power plant proposed for Halifax County.

The proposed plant will rely on “slash,” or wood waste found on forest floors for fuel, and forestry consultants have determined there an abundance of slash can be found within the immediate and outlying area.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hosted an informational session followed by a public hearing Monday night on NOVI Energy’s application for a permit. The overview and public hearing were held in Building One at Riverstone Technology Park to garner public comment on the proposed power plant.

Jed Brown, DEQ Air Permit manager, served as moderator for the hearing with IDA Executive Director Mike Sexton commenting first.

“This project is a very good bid for this community,” Sexton said. “Forestry and wood products has always been a mainstay in our region. This will present us with an opportunity to put a lot of those folks back to work to collect, harvest and distribute that material to this plant.”

Sexton said that would take a minimum of 15 crews in the field with three people per crew. “We could allow those people to invest in machinery that costs between $700,000 and $1 million, chip that slash and bring that slash to the plant,” he said. “When these crews are contracted, they will have that contract in hand to purchase that equipment. All those sales dollars mean tax revenues for the county.

“The facility itself is estimated to be about a 50 megawatt plant and is estimated at a minimum of $150 million, paying taxes at a real estate value in Halifax County of 43-cents per $100,” he said. “And that will have a significant impact to our county on a yearly basis. You know the difficulty we’re having meeting our budget today, this is going to have a very positive impact.”

Sexton said 40 direct jobs will be estimated for the plant, but the indirect jobs will total about 150. “There’ll also be sales revenues that will impact local businesses,” he said. “And that sales revenue creates sales taxes that come back into our community.”

The IDA director said, “We want clean energy, we want sustainable energy, and that’s what wood biomass presents to our community. So this is a very good opportunity, a good project, and we support it.”

Larry Layman, a consulting forester with 35 years experience in forestry in Halifax County, said the biggest complaint he hears from landowners for whom he works is the amount of residue left behind after logging is done because there is no market for that material. “So I’m speaking in favor of this facility because of that,” Layman said.

Al Weed, biomass energy proponent from Charlottesville and former Democratic candidate for Congress from the 5th District, also spoke in favor of the plant, saying, “This is green energy, and from an air quality perspective, the stack gases and all are going to be much cleaner than a fossil-fuel plant such as the one in Clover.

“It’s a good thing for this economy, and it’s a good thing for this county and for the health of the people living in the county,” Weed said.

Prior to the public hearing, DEQ Senior Environmental Engineer Patrick Corbett presented an overview of the project for the more than 40 individuals in attendance and then took informal questions.

Following the hearing, Anand Gangadharan, president of NOVI Energy, the company that is developing the plant, said he is encouraged by the comments he heard Monday.

“The community has welcomed us, and I believe it’s a very good thing for Halifax County in general,” Gangadharan said. “They’ve got an exceptional partner in Northern Virginia Electrical Cooperative.

“This is a green plant, it will be a model plant given the focus we have placed on all the various sustainable elements, including returning bottom ash back to the fields and providing that nutrient back to where it came from,” he said. “Some of these small details all add up to a very sustainable development.” 

Gangadharan said NOVI has been working very hard on this project. “We are making significant progress, and there are a few milestones such as this DEQ permit and a few other things that must happen,” he said. “If all goes well, we actually are planning on interim construction here later in the month of December. We’re still talking in the order of 24 plus or minus months.”

The NOVI president said they would take steps to insure that emissions from the plant will not be harmful to the people of Halifax County. “We will make sure we have ‘best available control technology’ (BACT), and we meet all those standards,” he said. “This is something people should feel good about in having this plant in the community.

“Hopefully we have allayed any concerns, if any, and we have received very positive feedback from the community, so we are looking forward to moving along,” he concluded.