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Fibrowatt might choose Surry County for new power plant

November 9th, 2007 · No Comments

The public can learn more about Fibrowatt USA, a company planning to build a renewable-energy power-generating plant in North Carolina, when the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service hosts a “community open house” from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the Surry County Extension Service’s office, 210 N. Main in Dobson.

It’s no secret that Fibrowatt has had its eye on Surry County and other N.C. locations for the past four years. The company uses technology developed in England to generate electricity from poultry litter. Surry County is one of the state’s major poultry producers and Wayne Farms has a large broiler-chicken production operation at Dobson. Neighboring Wilkes County is the state’s largest broiler-chicken producer. Fibrowatt officials plan on consuming 500,000 tons of chicken litter to generate 40 to 50 megawatts annually.

What’s not as widely known is that Fibrowatt and officials in North Carolina have quietly accelerated plans for the new development and their efforts to choose a site. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Fibrowatt now has narrowed its choices for the first plant to Surry and Wilkes counties.

A 10-member delegation from Surry and Wilkes counties traveled last month to Benson, Minn., where they attended the opening of Fibrowatt’s first U.S. plant. That generating station employs about 100 people.

Bryan Cave, Surry’s agriculture-extension director, told the Journal that some in the group were curious to see whether an odor would be detected near the operation. They also wanted to know how the litter was brought in (in sealed trucks) and the process that it went through before burning. The Fibrowatt process heats chicken litter to produce gasses burned to produce steam that turns generators. The depleted chicken litter, sterile and dry, later can be used for fertilizer and feed supplements.

“I could stand right beside the plant in Minnesota and not smell litter at all,” Cave told the newspaper. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Based on the science and what I’ve seen, there’s not a great big issue there.”

Charlie Sink, a Wilkes County commissioner, also made the trip and said that the Minnesota facility is an impressive, modern plant. Worries about odor seem to be local people’s biggest concern, he said, so he stood next to the plant’s storage building and smelled nothing objectional.

The Journal article said Fibrowatt’s preferred site in Wilkes County is at North Wilkesboro’s industrial park off N.C. 268. A preferred location in Surry County was not named in the Journal’s article.

Robin Rhyne, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, has been Surry County’s lead contact with Fibrowatt since 2005. In a Mount Airy News article on Oct. 29, Rhyne acknowledged some environmental groups’ concerns about odors, plant emissions and waste products, but pointed out that waste disposal also is an environmental problem. She said no other organizations have proposed an alternative “green” solution to disposing of chicken litter.

In addition to Surry and Wilkes counties, five other counties have attracted Fibrowatt’s interest. The company has said it may build as many as three generating stations in North Carolina. The other counties being considered are Stanly, Montgomery, Moore, Duplin and Sampson. Fibrowatt intends to have informational sessions at all seven. The Wilkes County community open house is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at Wilkes Community College’s Walker Center in Wilkesboro.

Tags: Agriculture · Businesses · Economic development · Utilities

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