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Halifax biomass plant wins approval from state

The State Corporation Commission (SCC), in a 2-1 decision, has approved an application to construct and operate a 50-megawatt biomass electric generating facility in Halifax County, according to a SCC news release.

The power plant will be located on Plywood Trail just outside of South Boston and will burn wood byproducts to generate electricity.

The applicant, South Boston Energy, LLC, intends to sell the electricity produced by the plant to Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC), its parent company.

NOVEC also will be involved in the design, construction and operation of the facility.

“This will be a very aggressive project from this point,” said Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Executive Director Mike Sexton.

“Now the major construction contract can be let, and that will ramp up construction jobs in this area,” he added.

In the order granting approval, Commissioners Judith Williams Jagdmann and Mark C. Christie stated, “Our path to reaching this result ... has been made particularly arduous by the numerous deficiencies in NOVEC’s case apparent in this proceeding.”

The commission said, “Ultimately, however, our obligation herein is to apply the relevant Virginia statutes to the case before us...We find that based on the specific facts of this case taken as a whole, and only with...numerous additional requirements... the application satisfies the statutory standards.”

The commission conditioned its approval on several requirements, including a $180 million cost cap, a mandate for NOVEC to develop an integrated resource plan and directives for subsequent SCC review of additional actions related to this facility.

In a dissenting opinion, Commissioner James C. Dimitri stated, “The record shows that NOVEC has failed to undertake the evaluation and due diligence required for such a significant economic decision,” and he concluded that, based upon the record, the application did not meet statutory requirements for approval.

The case is continued pending further order of the SCC regarding the various requirements set forth in the commission’s order on the application.

The Halifax Industrial Development Authority has worked with NOVI for over three years to assist in the location of the plant in South Boston on the site of the raised Georgia Pacific plant.

The proposed plant will rely on wood waste — or “slash” — on forest floors for fuel. Forestry consultants have determined that there is an abundance of slash within a 75-mile radius of the proposed Halifax County facility.

Approximately 150 indirect jobs will be created in the harvesting of wood chips from Halifax County and the Southern Virginia region, IDA officials have said, and a well-managed forestry industry in Virginia will be the key to sustaining the supply of wood.

The harvesting and distribution jobs that will support the plant will see a brighter future in the region, according to IDA officials. 

Halifax County’s natural resources continue to be a reason that wood products and agri-business will grow and provide jobs for the community far into the future.

The site was prepared with the help of a $700,000 grant through the Virginia Housing and Community Development, among other funding agencies. 

IDA officials credited Nancy Pool, president of The Halifax Chamber of Commerce, for being responsible for attracting NOVI to the area and raising the $100,000 needed to support a study of potential suppliers for the plant.

NOVI Energy, a Michigan-based energy services company, will oversee full construction of the plant now that the SCC has approved South Boston Energy’s application.

NOVI Energy expects the plant, that will be carbon neutral, to start generating electricity in 2013.

“In other words, it will not add any more carbon dioxide to the environment beyond what is released through natural decomposition of slash,” said John Rainey, NOVEC senior energy contracts originator.

“This biomass plant will not emit any toxic elements,” Rainey explained.

“Furthermore, the proposed plant will be cooled with ‘gray’ water from a nearby wastewater treatment facility in a closed loop. Therefore, the plant won’t use thousands of gallons of clean water every day from the local water authority.”

NOVI Energy is an entrepreneurial company that provides a broad range of services in energy consulting, energy management and energy infrastructure project development for utility, industrial, institutional and commercial companies across the United States and the world.

NOVEC is a not-for-profit corporation that distributes electricity and energy services to more than 144,000 customers in Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford and Clarke counties, and the City of Manassas Park, making it one of the largest electric distribution cooperatives in the nation.