04/17/08 — Poultry litter plant is going to Sampson County

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Poultry litter plant is going to Sampson County

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 17, 2008 2:00 PM

Fibrowatt has made its decision, and it will not be building its poultry litter-fired power plant in Duplin County.

Instead, the Pennsylvania company, which built its first three plants in the United Kingdom in the 1990s and its first in the United States in Minnesota in 2007, will be locating its newest plant in neighboring Sampson County.

It is expected to be an approximate $150 million investment that will provide about 100 new jobs.

The decision, which was announced Wednesday afternoon, did not come as a surprise to Duplin County officials.

"I'm very disappointed," said Commissioner L.S. Guy. "But we told them we didn't want it -- in so many words. I just wish Duplin County had gone through the legal processes -- a public hearing -- of determining whether we wanted them or not."

The company had requested assistance from the county in finding a suitable location for the plant. And despite initial agreements on two, the county commission backed out of both -- both near Warsaw -- after opposition arose from neighboring land owners over concerns about pollution and lifestyle disruptions.

Also on the table was a $3.5 million tax incentive package, though the board had discussed reducing that.

Fibrowatt officials, however, said their decision was made primarily on the technical qualifications of the Sampson County site.

"We've spent upwards of two years on our site selection process," said Terry Walmsley, vice president of environmental and public affairs. "And the technical criteria are the most important to our decision."

That means access to roads, transmission lines, good site topography and a nearby ample supply of poultry litter -- all four things that the Sampson County site has, with its 300-acre location at the intersection of I-40 and N.C. 403 near Faison.

Once complete, likely in 2011 after construction begins in 2009, the 55-megawatt power plant is expected to hook up with Progress Energy's transmission lines.

"Sampson County offered an attractive site with everything we were looking for.... When we completed our technical evaluation of all the sites offered, it was an easy choice to make," said Fibrowatt CEO Rupert Fraser in a written statement.

Sampson County also offered a tax incentive package worth up to $2.5 million over the next 10 years, as well as assistance with the necessary infrastructure improvements, including water and sewer.

Now Duplin officials are just hoping to see some residual benefits.

"I'm glad it's coming to the area," said Duplin Commissioner David Fussell. "And I have mixed emotions about it. Wherever we would have decided to put it, we were going to have problems. But as close as it is to Duplin County anyway, it'll benefit the whole region -- at least I hope it will."

But to County Manager Mike Aldridge, seeing it locate so close almost makes the decision worse.

"If it was going to be so close to the county, we could have used that tax base here," he said. "But I still hope to see some good spin-off for our growers here, and hopefully some of our people can be employed there."

Commission Chairman Harold Raynor, on the other hand, is glad to see it outside the county.

"I'm really pleased about it," he said. "We've just had so many people calling us against it. This just wasn't the right time for this."

But it likely won't be their last opportunity to consider such a project -- not with the new state legislation requiring 12.5 percent of energy to come from renewable resources such as biomass by 2021.

"Attracting new companies to North Carolina was one of the important benefits of the renewable energy legislation," state Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, said in a written statement. "Fibrowatt's plant will bring new jobs to eastern North Carolina and support our existing agricultural industries.

"It is a perfect example of how renewable energy can help boost our economy."

And so Aldridge expects to see other such companies looking toward Duplin County.

"In the economic development game you don't win them all," he said. "We'll just keep plugging away and working to let companies know what resources we have here.

"If we can attract interest from one company, then hopefully we can attract others. The renewable energy industry is really just beginning to be tapped."