Jim Turner -- April 26th, 2010
Guest blogger Jim Turner begins this week’s series on the Fibrowatt power plants.
A few weeks ago, articles in the DNR and Page News & Courier mentioned that the company Fibrowatt was still looking for a place to locate in the Shenandoah Valley – the signs right now seem to point to Rockingham County. With some friends in Page County having just gone through the process of learning about how the company turns biomass into electricity, and evaluating whether this was a good business for the Page County community (eventually the Page County BOS turned them down), I thought I might turn my series of blog posts into a summary for others to reference. The team here at hburgnews has [agreed] to publish this series as a “guest blog” on their site – much appreciated!
There will be a series of five posts, including this one, that cover the following topics:
- Who is Fibrowatt
- An Overview of the Biomass to Energy Process
- A Look at Fibrowatt’s Minnesota and North Carolina Projects
- Fibrowatt’s Economic Impacts on Farms
- Page County Says “No Thanks” to Fibrowatt
So how did we learn about Fibrowatt? Here is the quote in the NVDaily newspaper that got me started:
Legislation in Richmond from Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, would establish tax credits and other incentives to encourage Fibrowatt LLC to locate a facility in Page County. We became aware a couple of months ago that they were looking at constructing one of their plants in the valley,” Gilbert said, adding that Page is considered a top contender for the site.
(Gilbert’s proposed legislation was pulled during this year’s legislative sessions.) Turns out, this press release may have been mistakenly published early, but it got a lot of us interested.
The article was very specific about a controversial location in Page County, and meant that discussions had already been underway, yet hardly any every day citizens knew about this opportunity. The estimated impacts – 300 construction jobs and 100 plant jobs after the plant is up and running – all sounded like a great investment for Page County. But this is an industrial process and it won’t be without its impacts, so on the Hawksbill Cabin blog we took a closer look at the technology that is used, the history of community relations, and some of the controversies that are related to this technology.
So, just who is Fibrowatt? A Google search will take you to a home page for the company, but summarizing, Fibrowatt LLC is owned by a New Hampshire-based holding company called Homeland Renewable Energy. Homeland Renewable Energy (HRE) was founded in 2000 by a management team that built and later sold three litter conversion electricity plants in the UK in the 1990’s. Their selling point on the idea: responding to the poultry industry’s need for a litter disposal alternative, by using it to generate renewable energy. HRE claims to be the only firm in the world with experience developing these types of plants.
That same Google search will identify a lot of past articles and press releases, including quotes like this one, from Energy Today Magazine:
Locating these plants near to major poultry producing centers is critical to the model’s long-term success. But Fibrowatt is sensitive to the needs of the communities it would like to enter. Although it is exploring potential future projects in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, and other states, the company’s philosophy is to only go where it’s invited.
It’s the last quote in the Energy Today article that hit home for me…from the NVDaily article I mentioned above, there’s this quote:
Officials in Page have been in discussions with Fibrowatt for some time, but have agreed not to speak publicly about the project, according to Gilbert. The county already has a site picked out in an industrial park that is in close proximity to a transmission line, he said.
Also, in a January issue of Page News & Courier, Luther Johnson’s front page piece talks about the Page County Economic Development Authority’s public meeting in Luray that week. Within the context of a discussion about Project Clover, the article concludes, “…Baughan confirmed that there is another business looking at possibly moving into Page County, but nondisclosure agreements prevent any further details from being shared.”
I set out on the process of learning more about Fibrowatt because I put the “biomass=green” concept together with the prospect of a good economic impact from their locating in Page County – it’s a pretty exciting idea on the face of it. Looking back on the experience, the fact that all public officials at the time were under nondisclosure agreement, despite the philosophical promise to “only go where it’s invited,” is a big part of why I became an advocate “against” Fibrowatt.
You can read more on my Hawksbill Cabin blog at www.hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com – just look for the “Fibrowatt” label in the right column, and it will take you to the whole history of the Page County experience last January through March .
Photo by Salim Vohra.
Jim Turner is a management consultant in his day job, but his real passion is the weekends he spends at the Hawksbill Cabin, near Stanley and Luray, Virginia. He keeps a blog on the weekender lifestyle, which is where this material about Fibrowatt and Page County was first published.