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Overflow crowd denounces Penrose biomass plant

Danna Smith of Brevard speaks against proposed biomass plant in Penrose during a public meeting Thursday, April 11. Danna Smith of Brevard speaks against proposed biomass plant in Penrose during a public meeting Thursday, April 11.

BREVARD — An overflow crowd expressed opposition to a proposed biomass plant in Penrose during the first public presentation of a project that residents said had been in the works for more than a year.

A New York company, Renewable Developers, has proposed a $22 million plant that will use wood chips and city and county garbage as fuel to create electricity that it will sell to Duke Energy. Federal renewable energy tax credits and other economic incentives for job creation in Transylvania County boost the economic viability of the project, an attorney for the project told the audience.
Matthew Ross, an attorney for the Renewable Developers, led a 45-minute presentation explaining the process that converts wood and garbage to energy and tried to address opponents' fears about air pollution, water pollution, noise and lights. The process is not incineration, he said, but a clean closed loop system.
"Incineration and combustion require that you are actually burning something. The fire actually touches the product, creates heat and light and smoke," he said. "This is a hard separation between the burner portion and the feedstock portion, such that the fire never touches the product. Because of that those type of particulate emissions — the black soot that some of you might be anticipating — will not happen."
He did not seem to collect many converts about 250 people who jammed a large meeting room at the Transylvania County Library.
"There's nothing in this valley right now that's going to be causing disease like this will," said a physician who moved from Spartanburg to Penrose.
Joseph Furr, a real estate agency who lives in Penrose, said he fears the plant will have a substantial negative effect on home values. Under rules governing real estate disclosure, he said, "I am going to be telling (buyers) this is in the proposal stage. It might happen; we hope it will not ... Can you really look us in the eye and say that this is really for the good of the whole county?"
When asked whether the project was doable without tax credits, Ross said the green tax incentives for renewable energy plants and economic development incentives for "severely distressed" counties with a high unemployment like Transylvania do make a difference. "All these things do make it much more economically attractive, yes," he said.
Ross posed a series of question that anticipated residents' concerns.
Does this pass North Carolina air quality permitting standards?
"Yes it does," he said. "I've permitted several project in North Carolina. Some of them include city of Durham and Wayne County landfill."
The operation won't receive and process garbage and wood chips at night, he said.
"However, the pyrolysis system itself will run 24 hours a day," he said. It will be contained indoors, he said, "and we will make sure there's no ambient noise... There should be almost no odor outside of the property."
"We will be bringing in up to 200 tons a day of feedstock. The average dumptruck holds about 12 tons, the average long haul trailer, 20 to 22 tons, so it will somewhere in that range, 12 to 14 trucks a day. We are doing very serious investigation into alternative fuel vehicles" including natural gas and electricity that the plant itself generates."

"What about the rail spur? We picked the property because it has ... good road access and, yes, good rail access. Phase 1 of the project will absolutely not use the rail. Phase 2, if we're lucky enough to have a Phase 2, probably will not use the rail. But we don't know as we go forward whether we will use the rail or not. The quantities we're talking about are small enough that we can accomplish with trucks so we haven't really done any serious commitment on the rail but we do recognize" the potential for use of the rail.
At a meeting Tuesday night, a group of opponents adopted the name People for Clean Mountains and the theme of Think BIG, for Beyond Incinerating Garbage. They also agreed to set up committees on research and regulatory issues, publicity, legal issues and outreach.