Fibrowatt's poultry litter-fired power plant plans progress

By Anna Austin
Posted October 8, 2009, at 3:02 p.m. CST

Fibrowatt LLC has contracted renewable energy project designer Fagen Inc. to engineer, procure and construct one of the company's biomass power plants in North Carolina, and will possibly extend the contract to include two additional plants announced simultaneously in 2007.

Although plans for the trio of plants haven't come together as quickly as desired, Terry Walmsley, Fibrowatt vice president of environmental and public affairs, said the company is trying to parallel progress of the projects-planned for Surry, Montgomery and Sampson counties-but added each has a life of its own and largely depends on obtaining sufficient fuel under contract, and signing Power Purchase Agreements with area utilities.

"There's also the permitting pathway," he said, adding that none of the projects have "a leg up" on the others. "We believe we can retain quite a bit of value by maintaining a parallel path through engineering, design and construction," he said. "It probably won't always stay this way-many things could come into play that is outside of our control-but for now, this is how we'll pursue them."

In May, a spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Air Quality told Biomass Magazine preliminary analyses looking at existing facilities in Minnesota and North Carolina using wood waste indicated that arsenic emissions in the poultry-fired plants may exceed permissible levels in the state. That would not mean they won't get a permit, he said, but may require additional controls or other measures.

Walmsley said he didn't know what a reasonable timeline for projects such as Fibrowatt's should be, but that it hinges mostly on PPAs with power utilities. "It's really the anchor item that ensures the project has a life of its own and will go forward, in many respects," he said. "So far though, we've done quite a bit of preliminary design and permit work."

Fibrowatt brought its first 55-megawatt poultry-fired plant on line in Benson, Minn., in 2007, which is essentially the same size and scope as the South Carolina projects. In addition to poultry litter, Walmsley said the plants will be designed to utilize woody and agricultural biomass. "We recognize, since we're in a sense providing a service for poultry growers and we can't dictate things such as date of delivery, that we have to remain flexible," he said. "We expect to use in excess of 600,000 tons per year, but the mix will depend on how well we do signing up litter under contracts."

North Carolina's poultry industry accounted for more than $3.3 billion in 2007, and is ranked third nationally with more than 10 percent of the nation's poultry production, according to the North Carolina Poultry Foundation.

Walmsley added that it's unfortunate the projects haven't proceeded more quickly. "It would have been ideal to be at the point having utility PPAs in hand," he said. "It's very complex, but we're working as quickly as possible."

North Carolina's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, passed in 2007, requiring utilities purchase 12.5 percent renewable electricity by 2021, with specified portions being met from solar, swine and poultry waste-170,000 megawatt hours from poultry waste by 2012, and 900,000 by 2014.