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County OKs zoning for biomass plant: Power Resource Group plans to buy Masonite building

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NASHVILLE — Nash County welcomed a pending new biomass energy plant near Spring Hope on Monday by expanding the county’s unified development ordinance to allow three additional methods for producing it.

Biomass energy converts natural organic material — such as livestock waste, crop residuals, wood chips and food waste — into a variety of renewable energy fuel.

The county’s UDO was amended in February 2019 to add “biogas production” created through anaerobic digestion as a permitted land use in a general industrial zone with a conditional use permit, the county’s most rigorous zoning review process.

After a required public hearing and no opposition, county commissioners unanimously voted to amend the UDO to change the permitted land use from biogas production to a more general use of “biomass energy production facilities” which, in addition to anaerobic digestion, allows the processes of combustion, gasification and fermentation.

The text amendment also clarifies that the facility may produce the renewable energy on site or just produce the fuel to be transported for use elsewhere. Biomass energy production facilities are still limited to general industrial zones and require a conditional use permit.

Nash County planner Adam Tyson told the board that no biogas production plants were developed in the county after last year’s action. The change was requested then by Gess International to allow biogas production in Nash County, but the company never developed its project. 

Tyson said the expanded change “is the same concept, taking organic wastes and using them to produce renewable energy.”

“They’re just different ways to combine materials with oxygen and heat,” he added.

Monday’s change was requested by Power Resource Group of Farmville, which CEO Richard Deming said has taken an option on the 213-acre former site of Masonite International on Old Franklin Road outside Momeyer and Spring Hope.

PRG, which Deming said builds power plants that use biomass fuels in “an extremely clean process,” said the flexibility offered by the additional processes was the biggest difference in the UDO change, noting, that “fuel blends are a marketing opportunity.”

He said the massive size of the old Masonite plant, which manufactured fiberboard until it closed in 1998, was a draw for PRG. The property was about 100 acres of usable land, he said.

“We’re looking to do several things,” he said. “We love to build a biomass plant, probably a couple of megawatts of power to add to the electric grid. We would like to utilize that as much as possible.”

He told commissioners PRG is also talking with a solar company about putting a solar farm on about 40 acres of the property and may renovate an existing building on the site “and put our headquarters there.”

PRG’s site in Farmville is just 4 acres, he said.

Deming noted the property has “a little pollution that has to be cleaned up, a year-long process.” He said the cleanup will require two environmental reviews before the purchase can even be completed and construction begin.

“There’s a lot of complexity to get to the project,” he said.

Commissioners quickly moved through the required motions to approve the UDO amendment, which was also approved in September by the technical review committee and the planning board.

“You’ve passed one more step on your journey,” county board Chairman Robbie Davis told Deming after the vote as he welcomed him to Nash County and said he looked forward to the jobs PRG will bring.

PRG is the second biomass company to purchase the Masonite property. Xethanol Corp. of New York purchased the land for $1.5 million in 2006. Spring Hope Biofuels, a subsidiary of Xethanol, announced it planned to build a $50 million ethanol plant. Despite repeated promises, the project languished and was never completed.

The property, now valued at $948,000, changed hands until it was acquired by Select Bank last December for $793,500.

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