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$73 million fuel plant proposed in Sam Black area


The Register-Herald

LEWISBURG, W.Va.  — Amid the optimism created by the prospect of a $73 million synthetic fuel facility being constructed in the Sam Black area, Greenbrier County Commission President Woody Hanna found himself allaying a few fears about the project.

Lewisburg resident Robin Spence broached the subject of the proposed plant at Tuesday evening’s commission meeting, voicing environmental and funding concerns, the latter focused on the possibility of the county’s financing the privately-owned facility.

Hanna explained that the project’s owners, PPD of WV One — a limited liability company (LLC) that is too new even to be on the Secretary of State’s radar — last week received preliminary approval from the West Virginia Economic Development Authority to issue revenue bonds to finance the project.

“There’s no cost to the state or the county,” Hanna assured Spence.

Spence also asked if an environmental impact statement or study would be required before the plant would be permitted to break ground, citing noxious aromas that often surround wood-product facilities, plus the possibility of water contamination.

Besides saying he is “sure” there will have to be an environmental study, Hanna said officials with the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC) have visited a similar plant near Nashville, Tenn., and reported that it was a clean operation, with no smell.

As the county commission’s representative on the GVEDC, Hanna said he has been assured that the facility will have no impact on water or air quality.

Commissioner Lowell Rose agreed with Hanna, saying, “It’s a very environmentally-friendly plant, we’ve been told.”

Besides, Hanna said, “We hope… we create those jobs.”

Citing a figure that had been mentioned in early news reports about the proposed project, Hanna said that 60 jobs in the Meadow River Valley region of the county would be “phenomenal.”

• • •

Chris Hall, director of governmental affairs & business operations with Orion Strategies, a Charleston communications firm that is representing PPD of WV One, later provided The Register-Herald with updated information on the employment figures connected to the Sam Black facility.

The $73 million project (capital cost estimate) will create approximately 160 construction jobs, with between 60 and 100 full-time jobs at the plant when operations commence, Hall noted in an email.

In a telephone interview, Hall said, as he understands the agency’s process, the developers will go back to the WVEDA “toward the end of the year” and seek final approval to proceed with a financial package that includes the issuance of revenue bonds.

“They hope to start construction in late winter or early spring,” he said.

He said he could neither confirm nor deny media reports that the property where the facility will be sited near the Sam Black Church interchange with Interstate 60 has already been purchased.

The emailed bullet-points provided by Hall included the following information:

• “The facility will utilize a clean energy system that produces an inexpensive hydrogen gas stream on demand from biomass and waste sources. The feedstock for the Greenbrier County project will primarily be wood waste from the region’s growing forestry and wood products industry.”

• “The technology is environmentally-friendly, involving a process that is carbon neutral or negative.”

• “When operational, the facility will produce both #1 diesel fuel and a product known as biochar, a carbon-based product that is used in both agriculture and manufacturing.”

• “The facility… will be capable of producing 7.2 million gallons of diesel and 7,200 tons of biochar annually.”

Hall said technology for the project will be supplied by Proton Power Inc., a Lenoir City, Tenn., corporation founded in 2005.

Proton Power’s website touts its clean energy system as “financially viable at a relatively small scale,” which makes it easier to locate a plant near the necessary biomass.

The location of the Sam Black property near working timber operations was a major selling point for the developers, Hall said.

— Email: [email protected]

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