Year’s Top Stories – #3

Published 10:59 am Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Job opportunities grew last year in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

The year 2011 was the bearer of big news as Enviva LC announced it would be constructing not just one facility, but two, in the locale.

The first announcement of a wood pellet plant located in Ahoskie came just before Christmas in 2010 while another in August told of plans for a facility near Garysburg in Northampton County. Combined, the facilities will employ more than 120 people as well as give a boost to the local timber and logging operations industry.

Wood pellets are used for a variety of uses from heating homes to fueling power plants. A recent surge in the price of fossil fuel in recent years has increased the demand of wood pellets in Europe and North America.

In January, those living in the Roanoke-Chowan area acquainted themselves with Enviva and the wood pellet manufacturing process during a “meet and greet” in Winton.

Over 200 gathered at Commercial Ready Mix Products to learn more about Enviva, a leading manufacturer of processed biomass fuel in the United States and Europe.

In the Jan. 22 edition of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald, work was already underway at the old G-P plant on NC 561 East in Ahoskie where the wood pellet facility would be located.

Officials with the Richmond, Va.-based company spoke about the Ahoskie facility—an overall investment of $52 million—that would bring 53 jobs, would be capable of producing 333,000 tons per year, that’s two truckloads per hour of finished product going to the ports to be shipped overseas.

Enviva’s Glenn Gray, who oversaw the construction of the Ahoskie mill, explained the process. Wood products are delivered to the mill by logging operations (the wood yard will operate five days a week, 24 hours a day); the wood is processed through a chipper and then is screened to remove grit. The product is then dried (lowering the moisture content of the wood to 10 percent) before passing through sizing equipment. It then goes to the eight pellet presses at the mill that will produce the final product – a six millimeter pellet. The product is stored and shipped by truck to the port where it’s loaded on cargo container ships bound for Europe.

Enviva President and CEO John Keppler said Enviva is built on investing in long-term relationships and the company was looking forward to establishing itself in the community.

“Our company is built on relationships,” he continued. “We build those by investing in our company, our employees, the community, the supply chain; you can count on us and we can count on you. Our word is our bond; we say what we’re going to do and we do what we say. We’re not here just for today, we’re here for this generation and the next.”

Keppler thanked local and state officials for helping to guide Enviva to the Roanoke-Chowan area. He said credit for that effort was due to the work of Hertford County Economic Development Director Bill Early, Ahoskie and Hertford County local government officials and North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue.

Danny Maness of Enviva spoke about the company’s procurement strategy and promised it would be based on “a managed inventory and a managed procurement system.”

He added that pricing for the products will be based on fair market values as well as the quality of the wood.

Officials looked to have the Ahoskie mill completely ramp-up during the first or second quarter of 2012.

With the growth of Enviva into the Roanoke-Chowan area and an increase in demand overseas, officials announced a month later that they had acquired a port terminal in Virginia.

From the Feb. 24 edition of the News-Herald, officials announced they had acquired a Chesapeake, Va. port terminal,  one previously owned by the Giant Cement Company, to satisfy growing overseas demand for renewable energy products.

Enviva’s investment in the terminal would create the company’s capacity to receive, store and load in excess of three million tons of sustainably generated woody biomass for export each year.

Enviva’s planned for investment in and expansion of the terminal will require 40 to 60 skilled tradesmen and contractors during the initial phase of construction, and the terminal’s permanent staff of 12 is expected to double by the third year of operation under Enviva, which will use local maintenance contracts and other vendors whenever possible.  The terminal upgrades were expected to be completed in November to coincide with pellet production at Enviva’s Ahoskie facility.  Giant will continue to use a portion of the terminal for cement sales.

Enviva’s port terminal can accommodate a wide range of ships and loading options required for the export of more than 40,000 metric tons of Enviva’s wood pellets per vessel.

Despite the Ahoskie plant still being “in the works” by spring Enviva had increased the plant’s capacity.

In the News-Herald’s May 3 edition, officials announced the increase due to the demand for wood pellets and process biomass fuel.

The planned expansion of the Ahoskie facility would increase the plant’s production capacity by 50,000 metric tons annually, to 350,000 metric tons total.

With more work to do came more jobs to be filled as the company projected that the facility would provide more than 60 full-time jobs to area residents.

At the time, Enviva was developing sites for two additional wood pellet manufacturing plants in the mid-Atlantic region, each of which could be operational by late 2012, and another site in either Mississippi or Alabama which could become operational in early 2013.

By summer Enviva had gained some aid with their Ahoskie investment from state and local levels.

In the July 19 edition of the newspaper, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners approved a Local Government Grant Agreement and Company Performance Agreement for Enviva.

Chuck Revelle, who serves as legal counsel to the county and the board of commissioners, said this was an agreement with the state to receive and disperse to Enviva $270,000 from the NC One Fund.

Revelle explained part of the agreement are local funds of at least $270,000 granted to Enviva. Over a five year period, the county will provide approximately $840,000 and the Town of Ahoskie providing around $730,000.

As Revelle pointed out, the property tax revenue paid by Enviva over their initial five years of operation will far exceed the grant amounts.

Based on the current tax rates in both Hertford County and Ahoskie, Enviva is projected to respectively pay each government entity $1.68 million and $1.46 million in property taxes over their first five years of operation.

In August, the announcement came from Keppler, with the help of Gov. Bev Perdue, that another Enviva plant was planned for the Roanoke-Chowan area.

In the Aug. 6 edition of the News-Herald, Keppler announced the company would open a second wood pellet manufacturing facility at the Northampton County Commerce Park located on Lebanon Church Road near I-95.

The Northampton mill will come with a $60 million investment and 62 new jobs and is designed to produce 400,000 metric tons of wood pellets annually. It is scheduled to open in October of this year.

Keppler said the Northampton mill will be similar to the one in Ahoskie, both primarily dedicated to manufacturing wood pellets from hardwood pulp products.

Both the Ahoskie and Northampton facilities are capable of handing hardwood and softwood pulp depending on the availability of raw materials.

With the announcement of Enviva coming to Northampton County, funding to help get the Garysburg site in shape for the facility was soon secured.

In the Sept. 29 edition, Northampton County officials learned a federal grant in excess of $2 million was on its way to assist the county in building infrastructure for the Enviva facility.

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $2,002,088 grant to the county for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements needed to serve the Northampton Commerce Park and the proposed Enviva LP wood pellet manufacturing operation. Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank made the announcement.

As far as Northampton’s local commitment to the Enviva project, County Manager Wayne Jenkins said part of the economic development agreement calls for the conveyance of 122 acres of county-owned property within the Commerce Park to the company.

In October, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners conveyed that land to Enviva.

In the News-Herald’s Oct. 6 edition, the commissioners approved the conveyance of real property (116 acres) 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).

Other details of the project were also revealed by Roland Burnett, who will be the plant manager for the facility.

The 60 full time jobs will have an average wage of $17.30 per hour plus benefits and 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.

Burnett said at full capacity the 24-hour 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.

Burnett said the facility will be using all hardwood and “maybe 20 percent pine,” once the facility learns to manage the hardwood resources in the area.

Burnett expected the Ahoskie facility to go into production in November 2011 and probably reaching capacity by March 2012.