Northampton Enviva project progressing

Published 12:26 pm Friday, October 7, 2011

JACKSON — The Enviva project in Northampton County is moving along as more details about the proposed wood pellet manufacturing plant and employment opportunities have been revealed.

On Monday, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners approved the conveyance of real property, which is part of an economic agreement between the county and Enviva. During a public hearing for the matter, Northampton Economic Development Director Gary Brown introduced Roland Burnett, who will be the plant manager for the facility.

The to-be-conveyed property is a 116 acre parcel within the Northampton County Commerce Park, located near Lebanon Church Road and NC 46 between Gaston and Garysburg. Its worth is estimated by both parties at $556,800 ($4,800 per acre).

Brown said on the property Enviva plans to place the pellet manufacturing plant and support facilities, an investment in excess of $60 million.

“It will result in at least 60 full time jobs with an average wage of $17.30 per hour plus benefits,” he said. “The first year annual ad valorem tax receipts resulting from the fully capitalized improvements to the real property by Enviva, LP are projected to be approximately $522,000.”

Commissioner Virginia Spruill asked Brown whether or not the project would have any negative impacts on the community in the area.

“Negative impacts are subjective; it’s in the eye of the beholder,” Brown responded. “The project will result in increased truck traffic along State Road 1200 (Lebanon Church Road), NC 46 and NC 48. The project will require an air quality permit to be issued, which is common for most industrial manufacturing applications.”

Brown noted that permit application was submitted to the state in August.

“In conversations with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, they don’t anticipate any issues or anything other than a normal discharge permit,” he said.

Brown added the project will result in the development of additional land area for non-farm purposes.

“We will have a conversion from a farm use or a timber use to a non-agricultural piece,” he said.

Spruill asked how the plant would increase revenue for timber and logging in the area.

Burnett said at full capacity the plant will consume annually approximately 22,000 truck loads of round wood logs and in addition there will be 8,000 truck loads of residual chips that will be brought in from area saw mills.

“It’s a fairly good size plant,” he said. “We will produce about 400,000 tons of wood pellets annually that will leave our facility and be shipped at the Port of Chesapeake overseas.”

“Is this a 24 hour operation,” asked Commission Chairperson Fannie Greene.

Burnett said it is.

“What type of wood would you be using,” asked Commission Vice Chairperson James Hester.

“All hardwood; maybe 20 percent pine, once we learn how to manage the hardwood resources in the area,” he said. “We have a wood procurement agent that is very familiar with the timber supply in this area and is working on all the timber contacts.”

“The timber industry in the county and surrounding region, at my understanding and I’m by no means a timber guy, has broadly been depressed in the region for quite a while,” said Brown. “If this provides a substantial new market for timber resources, it provides an opportunity for area logging companies to do business, it provides an opportunity for timber growers and it provides new opportunity for those support industries that supply (maintenance).”

Spruill asked Brown if there had been any feedback about the project.

Brown said he had in one on one conversations with people by phone and on the street and people are interested about the project.

County Attorney Charles Vaughan asked about the status of the Enviva mill in Ahoskie.

“We expect the Ahoskie facility to go into production in November of this year and probably reaching capacity by March of next year,” responded Burnett.

Spruill asked about Roanoke-Chowan Community College offering extensive training for the Ahoskie project.

“What about for this particular project?” she asked. “Can you tell us where the training will be emanating from and who’s going to be giving this training?”

“I would expect that both Roanoke-Chowan and Halifax Community College would be involved with that,” said Brown. “I think likely Roanoke-Chowan would continue to be the lead because they have developed the training program and it’s well established there. And it would be a matter of efficiency for them to continue to offer the same kind of service for the Enviva Northampton facility.”

After further discussion, Brown said the consensus from Enviva is that they will encourage local people to apply for employment opportunities with the company.

Hester said he understood the market for wood pellets is strong overseas and asked about the market for the product in the United States.

“We have a very, very small market,” Burnett said. “The pellets that are asked for are used to produce energy at power plants in Europe. Traditionally, power plants in the U.S. use coal.

Enviva is really trying to educate power manufacturers in the United States to look at conversion processes.”

He added there are currently three plants in Chesapeake, Va. that are looking to converting from coal burning technology to wood.