Last updated: September 01. 2014 2:15PM - 1786 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

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Biofuels maker Enviva is in the process of getting construction permits for wood pellet plants in Richmond and Sampson counties and one in South Carolina, company officials said last week.

Permits that will allow the wood pellet manufacturer to start construction of its Sampson County plant are expected within the next month. The three plants would export wood pellets through a proposed terminal at the Port of Wilmington.

“They don’t have them yet, but they anticipate getting them in September,” said John Swope, executive director of Sampson Economic Development. “It will probably be the second half (of the month), so they’re getting very close. Once they do that, they will be able to move very quickly. They are doing the type of things needed to start the project — clearing the site, getting it ready for construction — so they can start construction immediately.”

Sampson is slated to be the first facility in operation, followed by the proposed site in Richmond County.

“There are actually proposing to do two plants — one in Sampson and one in Richmond. From what we understand, the Sampson plant would come first,” Swope noted. “They would start that first and then start the Richmond one about 90 days later.”

The proposed Sampson plant would not be affected by the one set for Richmond.

“They are not in competition at all,” Swope said. “They are going to be two projects that are done simultaneously almost, except Sampson’s is starting first.”

Enviva currently has five facilities in three states, according to its website, including two in northeastern North Carolina. Enviva officials said the company specializes in providing clean, sustainable, renewable woody biomass to industrial-scale customers seeking to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels and reduce their carbon footprint.

The company has been “supplying wood chips and wood pellets to customers in the U.S. and Europe since 2007,” the site states.

In June 2013, the Sampson Board of Commissioners approved providing a 12-month option to Enviva Holdings LP for the 180-acre stretch at Interstate 40’s Exit 355. Commissioners offered performance-based business incentives three months later.

Company representatives said last month permitting delays had pushed back the start of construction but a concerted effort was being made to ensure construction could start shortly after those permits were in hand. Hearing that, the county board extended both agreements by six months until mid-January 2015.

Swope said at the time the company was getting close, but was just not there yet. Now, the plant appears poised to break ground this fall.

“Things have not moved as quickly as we anticipated in getting all our permits. That’s the reason we’re asking for extensions on both these options,” Enviva representative Glenn Gray said last month. “As soon as our permits are delivered from (the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources) I think you’ll see activity within weeks.”

Enviva Pellets Sampson LLC will be a 500,000-metric ton wood pellet production facility, which would utilize wood biomass feedstock from the region, meaning more jobs, tax base and business for existing loggers, truckers and foresters, the company has said.

Direct incentives are said to total roughly $2.2 million. The site itself, valued at $1.25 million, along with the development costs, at $740,000, would total an additional $2 million, according to project figures. For those incentives, the county would receive estimated property tax revenues totaling $4.4 million in the first 10 years.

Overall, the project would bring an investment of $107 million in taxable property, as well as 79 direct jobs at an average salary of $36,682. Enviva has estimated another 100 indirect jobs in the forest supply and logistics chain and 300 contractor and project crew jobs during construction and roughly $35 million in purchases to be made in the area.

“We’ve already made significant commitments in equipment,” Gray said.

Long-term contracts have already been inked for the sale of what would be produced at the Sampson plant.

There have been logging families who have gone under due to the struggling economy and markets that have dried up. Enviva would pump renewed life into local industry and offer more markets, which is direly needed, many in those industries have said.

Gray also pointed to the 180-acre site, with an additional 20 acres the industry would have the option to purchase in order for an even bigger buffer. About 80 acres of the total site will be “disturbed” leaving the bulk of the property to serve as a natural buffer.

It is anticipated that property will soon be the site of work.

“They have a construction period of 11 months,” Swope said.

He said that is the estimated period of time from ground being broken to having the plant operational.

Reach reporter Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616.

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