Enviva to open Ahoskie plant

Published 7:07 am Thursday, December 23, 2010

The now closed Georgia-Pacific facility on NC 561 in Ahoskie will spring back to life as Enviva LP of Richmond, Va. has announced plans to open a wood-pellet manufacturing facility. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

AHOSKIE – Santa arrived ahead of schedule earlier this week.

Richmond, Virginia based Enviva LP, a leading manufacturer of processed biomass fuel in the United States and Europe, announced on Monday their plans to build a wood-pellet manufacturing facility in Ahoskie.

The project will bring 53 jobs to the area as well as providing a big boost to local timber and logging operations that were severely impacted by the shutdown of the International Paper mill in nearby Franklin, Va. earlier this year.

The new plant, to be built at the site of the former Georgia Pacific lumber facility on NC 561 East, will produce 330,000 tons of wood pellets annually from more than 600,000 tons of raw wood supplies.

“This is a lot more than just providing much-needed jobs in our area,” said William “Bill” Early, Hertford County Economic Development Director. “These are jobs with wages that are above average for Hertford County. Beyond that, there’s a bigger impact on the number of other jobs associated with Enviva coming to Ahoskie. We’re estimating that impact between 200 to 300 jobs within the local timber industry and other businesses that work hand-in-hand with logging companies.”

Early said Enviva uses pulpwood to manufacture its product, thus providing a new local market. Enviva promised to source locally all raw materials used in producing the high-quality pellets.

He added that the total investment Enviva will have on the local area is projected at $54.65 million.

Early said the pellets produced at the plant are used as a fuel source, much like coal.

“It can be used as a substitute for coal, it burns much cleaner than coal, and, most importantly, it’s a renewable energy source,” Early noted. “Wood pellets are real big right now in Europe and are gaining in popularity here in the United States.”

Early noted there are many renewable energy type companies, many with good leadership, but without a track record.

“Enviva is an existing company, not a start-up company,” Early said. “They already have a contract in hand to begin supplying these wood pellets.”

According to information contained in a press release to this newspaper, Enviva has been supplying wood chips and wood pellets to customers in the U.S. and Europe since 2007, and recently announced a long-term wood pellet supply contract with Electrabel, a subsidiary of GDF SUEZ Group, one of the largest utilities in the world.

What drew Enviva to Ahoskie was the region’s abundant resources, proximity to ports, and wealth of skilled labor.

Based on increasing demand from its domestic and European customer base, Enviva is contemplating the development of at least two additional manufacturing plants in the area, with site selection expected to be completed within 18 to 24 months.

“Enviva has developed strong relationships with timber owners and other fiber suppliers who are committed to the sustainable management of their resources,” said Enviva Chairman and CEO John Keppler.  “Those relationships are critical to the success of this exciting new expansion.”

The support of state and local governments was also a key factor, Keppler noted.

“North Carolina has become a leader in encouraging the development of renewable energy alternatives, and Enviva is thrilled to be a partner in that initiative,” Keppler said.

The new plant received grant support from the state’s One North Carolina Fund, which has invested in projects creating more than 45,000 jobs since 2001.

“North Carolina has tremendous biomass resources and this project is a great opportunity for us to use those assets to create high-quality jobs,” North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said in announcing the project.  “We are happy to be working with Enviva to make this happen.”

Early said a local economic development incentive grant was negotiated between Enviva, Hertford County and the town of Ahoskie. That performance-based agreement is a $1.5 million grant stretched over five years.

“Enviva agreed to make a minimum investment, create a minimum number of jobs and remain current on their ad valorum taxes over the life of the incentive grant,” Early said. “The company will produce a net increase in tax revenue to both the county and the town.”

Early said the effort to land Enviva in Ahoskie was done in a short amount of time.

“It was about a six-month process,” he said. “We worked with the state on this, from the Governor’s office all the way down to my office. I really appreciate the cooperation we had at all levels. Everyone was very supportive of this project.”

Enviva is expected to begin work almost immediately in revamping the old G-P plant to fit their needs. Early said the new plant may begin operation as early as November of next year.

For more information about Enviva, including job opportunities, go to www.envivabiomass.com.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal