Ramble On

Friday, February 26, 2010

An Open Letter to My Page County Neighbors re: Fibrowatt

Here's an excerpt of a message I sent to local business owners yesterday.  While this focuses on the retail, hospitality, and tourism industry in the County, farmers can also expect impacts from the proposed plant. 
...As you probably have read in the Page News and Courier, a company called Fibrowatt is making a presentation to the Board of Supervisors in Luray next week on March 2. Fibrowatt builds power plants that burn poultry farm waste to produce electricity – and they proposing to build a plant at Project Clover. Now, the plant will bring some jobs with it to the County, which is generally a good thing, but it will also have a significant impact on tourism here, and your retail business, in two ways.

First, the easy, visible one: the plant Fibrowatt built in Minnesota has a 300-foot smokestack (for comparison, the smokestack at the old tannery in Luray is 60 feet tall). A 300-foot smokestack in the center of the Valley will be visible for more than five miles. Tourists at the Luray Caverns parking lot will see it. Families enjoying the Hawksbill Pool in Stanley will see it. Hikers on the AT in Shenandoah National Park will see it from points south of Big Meadows all the way to Compton Peak – about four hiking days! And the bike riders in our popular bike races will see this smoke stack for just about their entire route.

The second one, which is not as visible and is probably more of a concern: among the emissions that will come from that smokestack are materials such as hydrochloric acid, nitrous oxide, and sulphur dioxide. Some of these are merely components of acid rain, but others can have pretty serious health effects. The prevailing wind pattern in the area blows to the northeast or to the southwest – these emissions will blow directly onto Luray or Stanley proper from the proposed location at Project Clover. The plant will produce much less of these materials than a coal plant, but how much of this kind of stuff is okay?

Page County’s Economic Development Administration is going to argue that this project will bring much needed jobs to the county, and that is important in today’s economy. But if the project is approved, it seems a pretty sure bet that the tourism, hospitality, and retail industries here in the county will suffer – and that’s your business and livelihood that we’re talking about.

Okay, I do have one more thing to mention. To haul the poultry waste, which will come from as far away as West Virginia, Culpeper, and Waynesboro, an additional 80 trucks a day will have to drive on Business 340 through Stanley and Luray…that’s up to 12 trucks an hour!

I worry that the promise of a few new jobs will lead to an easy approval by the Board of Supervisors, even though it seems clear that the plant will have a devastating impact on tourism here…so the Supervisors need to hear from you about your opinion of a plant like this. I did a lot of research on the topic before coming to my conclusions on the plant, and you can take a look here: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/search/label/Fibrowatt if you’d like more information to help you make up your mind.

However you feel about the potential for a power plant like this (and its associated 300-foot smokestack) in Page County, please get in touch with your District Supervisor and let them know. A list of the Supervisors and their contact information is at http://pagecounty.virginia.gov/files/agendas-minutes/board%20of%20supervisors.pdf

Thanks for your attention. Here’s to a prosperous 2010 in Page County.

Best regards,
“Cabin Jim” Jim Turner
Hawksbill Cabin blogger

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More thoughts on Fibrowatt impacts

Following up on the discussion of potential emissions from a power plant in the Valley, today I wanted to think about some different supporting infrastructure that will need to be constructed. The starting point for this analysis is Homeland Renewable Energy’s website, Fibrowatt’s parent company, specifically the technical data sheet about the Minnesota plant, which is the first reference link at the end of the post.

There are two points to call out specifically, both of which will require specialized infrastructure: (1) the stack height of 300 feet, and (2) the voltage that power generated at the plant is delivered to the grid – 115kV.

Starting with the stack height, it’s hard to get a perspective on how tall 300 feet is in Page County, since the Valley is surrounded by two mountain ridges. The nearby peaks in Shenandoah National Park, notably Stonyman and Hawksbill, are 4,000 feet tall. Two easily identifiable peaks in the shorter Masssanutten ridge are Kennedy peak and Duncan Knob, at between 2,500 and 2,800 feet tall.

There are numerous photographs of panaoramic views from these summits on the Hiking Upward site (www.hikingupward.com) or from Google Earth. From those heights, tall constructed objects are visible, but for the time being there are none over 150 feet tall, these being cell towers. As I drove through Luray last weekend I made a mental inventory or a few of them – the Tannery stack, at about 50 feet, the Luray Caverns Bell Tower, also about 50 feet tall, the cell tower on the ridge above downtown about 100 feet, and the tower near Wal-Mart, about 120 feet tall.  There are also water towers in Luray and Stanley, both of which are well below 100 feet.

Three hundred feet is pretty hard to quantify in Page County, because there is simply nothing that tall here – roughly equivalent to a 30 story building. This stack is five or six times as tall as the tannery stack, and nearly three times as tall as the tower near Wal-Mart. A smoke stack of that height would immediately draw attention from all of the panoramic vistas along the Shenandoah National Park ridge, including several of the historic overlooks on Skyline Drive. Hikers on the Appalachian Trail, when they are on the west side of the ridge, would see it from a few miles south of Big Meadow all the way up to the Rileyville area, perhaps as far as Compton Peak – four or five hiking days.

Down to earth, in the Valley, this smokestack would easily be visible from the Luray Caverns parking lot, where 500,000 tourists a year would take in the view. And families and kids at the Hawksbill Recreation Center in Stanley, which is very close to the proposed location at Project Clover, would also have a very clear perspective on the stack. The bike crowd in for state qualifiers – about a thousand of them, would see the stack from all along their route, and it would surely be a topic of conversation for the thousand-plus tri-athletes in June and August, putting an end to these emergent tourist activities.

The second infrastructure issue that draws my attention is the electrical transmission equipment that will be required. The voltage that will be delivered to the grid – 115kV, is considered high voltage and will require high voltage transmission lines. The Valley already has a few of these – but none running through the center area at Project Clover.
A Google search for pictures of high voltage towers to me to a Minnesota state permitting site, which is linked below. There are photos with a couple of examples like this one, and there are some images of big open country towers in the Wikipedia article cited in the references. A string of these (smaller ones!) will be needed to transmit the power to the national grid and to the end customer – a quick note here that that customer could be anywhere in the United States that is connected to Fibrowatt’s entry grid.

As indicated by this simple graphic from the Department of Energy (also found on Wikipedia), there will also need to be a substation, or transformer, built in proximity or on the grounds of the power plant. There's a photograph of a typical transformer station below.  While altitude won’t be significant here, the necessary towers will begin from there, radiating out through the Valley. I suspect that the transmission line will impact the Massanutten Ridge in some form, as I doubt that clearing space for this construction would be allowed in the Park. On the other hand, there are lines in Thornton Gap, so this may be the point of entry for the power to the grid.

In the research I’ve been doing, I have tried to keep an open mind to Fibrowatt and the opportunity to have a biomass plant in Page Valley. The proposed location, as I understand it, at Project Clover is my major point of concern. It is dead center in the Valley with prevailing winds to the northeast and southwest, which means any emission particulate matter will fall on the neighboring towns of Stanley and Luray. The height of the building and smokestack will be visible from throughout the Valley, including prime tourist attractions.

I’ve always been against the use of the Project Clover land for any industrial use, but I am against it even more when that use will require obtrusive construction such as this. If the plant were to come to the Valley in a location with less impact, I might support it – but since the Page County EDA has pushed this site into consideration, I have to make a stand against it.

At this point, I’ve done enough research on Fibrowatt to have an opinion. I foresee devastating economic impacts to the tourism and agriculture industries in the Valley, and the potential for significant environmental degradation. To put it simply: I’d rather not see a plant here.

A Fibrowatt plant as a potential source of emissions

As a follow-up to the conversation I had with Benson, MN officials last week, I thought I would look further into the reference to emissions problems at the Fibrowatt plant there. The permitting documents describe a range of chemical compounds and proscribe “acceptable” amounts of them in emissions – an issue to carefully weigh against any promise of new jobs for the County. My notes about this problem include a reference to citations during commissioning and shakedown operations at the plant, reporting timeliness, and an agreement by Fibrowatt to pay a fine and upgrade their equipment.

The Minnesota incident is reported on the Fibrowatt website under the headline, “MPCA & Fibrominn Settle Issues Related to 2008 Notice of Violation,” which says that Fibrominn and the MPCA have reached a Compliance Agreement that resolves alleged violations largely related to the startup, commissioning, and equipment and system optimization (”shakedown”) of the Fibrominn Biomass Power Plant in Benson, Minnesota.

I’ve also heard the compliance agreement referred to as a stipulation agreement, which is often used to achieve compliance with environmental laws. These agreements consider whether violations are first time incidents or repeat violations, reporting promptness, seriousness of the environmental impact, and then assess fines and prescribe corrective actions.

Noting the use of the word “alleged” on the Fibrowatt page, I took a moment to ensure that I knew the definition; alleged has three definitions on the Webster.com site: asserted to be true or to exist, questionably true or of a specified kind, or accused but not proven or convicted. My take on this is the third definition applies, and the stipulation agreement stopped the process from going further, which may have resulted in a finding of violation or conviction - I am pretty sure that the record in Minnesota would show that the chemicals were present, so the question becomes more about whether this was a spontaneous incident or accidental.

So my research took me a step further. I’ve scanned the Minnesota permit, and understand what the output of biomass combustion or incineration is comprised of – but I’ll quote from a New York Times article, which was written about a proposed Fibrowatt plant in Maryland: “…according to its air permits, the plant is a major source of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrogen sulfide.” In the permit itself, several other emissions are noted, including sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid.

The next step for me was to take a look at the risks associated with these outputs, and I consulted the Wikipedia articles on them. (It is my practice to source many articles at the end of my posts – here I have not sourced the Wikipedia articles specifically, but you could perform the same search using the chemical names below.) In each case, there is a lot of technical information about the components, various uses, and risks from the chemicals.

It turns out that many of these compounds are greenhouse gases, meaning they will impact visibility and have a long-term impact on the larger environment. But some of them are used as industrial corrosives and are also identified as health risks. Consider the following from Wikipedia:

  • “Sulfur dioxide is associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death.”
  • “Sulfuric acid is a component of acid rain, and is highly corrosive.”
  • “Hydrochloric acid - Both the mist and the solution have a corrosive effect on human tissue, with the potential to damage respiratory organs, eyes, skin, and intestines.”
  • “Carbon monoxide is a major atmospheric pollutant in some urban areas, chiefly from the exhaust of internal combustion engines (including vehicles, portable and back-up generators, lawn mowers, power washers, etc.), but also from improper burning of various other fuels (including wood, coal, charcoal, oil, paraffin, propane, natural gas, and trash).”
  • Finally, nitrous oxide was also noted to be a greenhouse gas.
I assume, and my Page County friends can let me know if I am right or wrong on this impression of mine, that the state of Virginia and Page County authorities will ensure that the permitting process is designed control these outputs. I know that the mere fact of a reference to these chemicals in permits has inspired a range of environmental reaction to the proposed development of plants in North Carolina, and in general to the company itself (I've yet to visit these sources). For its part, Fibrowatt asserts good neighbor policies and a commitment to minimize this problem.

So what about the group of stakeholders that I’ve overlooked in this statement, the Page County residents and farmers who will live and work near the proposed plant at Project Clover? I took a quick look at the runway orientations at Luray airport to have a look at prevailing wind patterns in this part of the Valley. The runways are aligned on 40 degrees and 220 degrees, roughly a northeast and southwest orientation – and the old runway that can be seen from the air at Project Clover has a similar orientation.

This suggests that due to the prevailing winds, emissions from the plant will basically blow into and onto Stanley, population 1,326 in the 1990 Census (again from Wikipedia), or Luray, population 4,871 in the 1990 Census.  The Clover site is in the middle of productive farm land, mainly beef production sites.  So those animals would likely spend some time in the plume as well.

The presence of these chemicals in the plant’s emissions poses a serious question in my mind, one that hasn’t yet been answered satisfactorily. A commitment to mitigate and attempt to reduce the risks is there – Fibrowatt’s commitment to being a good neighbor, and its corrective actions in Minnesota – but that doesn’t eliminate the risks of an accidental output, or likely increased levels of output during plant maintenance periods and restarts after downtimes.

The plant would have an impact on our way of life as residents and farmers.  While I haven't touched on the potential impact to our major economic activity yet - tourism - I think that sponsors and organizers of our three triathlons and two major, statewide bike races, which easily bring more than a thousand visitors to the Valley on event weekends, would be inclined to think twice about this as a location for their events.

Tomorrow I am going to take a look at the concept of “viewshed” impacts. Meanwhile, here are some of the URLs I referenced in the development of this post:


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Page County Board of Supervisors Meeting and Fibrowatt Presentation

My friends in the Valley tell me that there is a meeting at Luray Middle School March 2, 7 pm in the cafeteria. It is a planned working session, which means public questions will not be allowed, and Fibrowatt will be giving a presentation there. 

I am going to try and attend, but no guarantees. 

I was told that if you have questions for the Board, they need to be submitted in advance, and they may or may not be dealt with at the meeting.  As far as how to get the questions to the BOS, their addresses are available from http://pagecounty.virginia.gov/files/agendas-minutes/board%20of%20supervisors.pdf

I hope the information that I've provided on this site is useful to Page County residents in understanding the nature of power plant operations and Fibrowatt.  So far I haven't gotten into the environmental discussions that continue in North Carolina and elsewhere - those are comming once I have a bit more time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Losing Part of the Apple Tree

Just last month I was starting to think of some Spring chores, including getting our apple tree pruned - http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2010/01/february-pruning.html ...

It turns out that the weight of the snow on some of those branches caused one of the main trunk branches to break and fall, luckily only hitting the house with a glancing blow and no damage.  So we had Ricky Dinges come up and cut the fallen tree out of there.

While he was there, we had him cut down a very gnarly old Dogwood in the back, that was trying to wrap itself up in the power lines.  It's sad to lose a 50 year-old tree like that, but there was a real danger there so we thought i was a good idea. 

While we were talking about his work and paying him, we took a closer look at this pine tree next to one of the white oaks.  Two years ago, the pine in a similar pairing fell during Spring thaw - so we've decided to have Ricky and his crew back in to take this tree down before it falls on its own. 

Looks like I am going to have another bunch of camp logs for Chris -

Friday, February 19, 2010

Interview with Benson, part 2

For this post, continuing with the second half of my interview last week with the city of Benson, MN about the Fibrowatt plant there. I had shared my draft notes with Mr. Worthington and he provided some clarifications for me, so I updated the earlier posts with regard to the infrastructure construction.

4. Tell me a little bit about the Citizens’ Advisory Council in Benson. Who was on it, and how were they chosen? What were some highlights of their work? Were there aspects of that process you might improve in the future?

• Council is now operating as an independent organization, separate from city government
• Formed from citizens who had stakeholder groups (barbers, accountants, clergy) so they could draw input from their networks
• Met once a month during permitting, which took longer than expected, still meets under company sponsorship
• Members now sometimes give plant tours
• Fibrowatt showed focus and optimism during a long process, stuck with it, committed
• Negligible community complaints during construction process

5. Share some insights on the job impact that the Fibrowatt plant has had in the area.

• Employment stands at around 35 jobs at the plant, some originally from outside but seeing a transition to more localized work force
• Power plant jobs are technology jobs – workers in white coats and with growing expertise
• Anecdote about a person who started as a security guard and has worked her way up into new opportunities
• Proximity impacts – neighboring fertilizer plant (North American Fertilizer) with 6-8 permanent employees and seasonal boost of 30 or 40 part-timers; trucking company relocated, estimate of 100 driver jobs and 10 or more mechanics, plus management; new to area (synergy) is an Ethanol gasifier plant that also uses biomass plant materials – 100M gallons sold as E85
• Litter spreaders still have work, the plant does not take all of the litter

6. Is Fibrowatt a good citizen in Benson? Can you give some examples of their impact?

• Good citizen in Benson
• Fibrowatt now is 25 to 35 percent of local tax base
• With the 50MW plant and the Ethanol plant, the city of Benson is now energy independent

Remember to drop a note in the comments if you would like a copy of this transcript in a Word doc.

Interview with Benson, part 1

Earlier in the week, I was able to hook up by telephone with Rob Worthington and Elliot Nelson, who are both part of Benson, Minnesota’s city government. Our conversation was centered on six questions, and they generously gave me 45 minutes of their time for this discussion. On the whole, these folks consider Fibrowatt to be a good citizen in Benson, and the plant there is the centerpiece of an evolving concentration of energy firms.

Today, I am posting the first half of the interview…in the interest of getting this material on-line quickly, I’ll just put it up as raw notes – one takeaway I have from the information they shared is a need to do a bit more work, specifically to try and get a better understanding of the environmental activism springing up around Fibrowatt’s planned opening of three plants in North Carolina. Some of my Page County neighbors have expressed an interest in trying to develop some financial pro-formas around a deal like this to try and evaluate the costs and benefits, both to the community as well as to Fibrowatt, and I am looking forward to digging into that issue.

1. How was Benson selected? Was there a state or regional competition?

• We had a brief discussion of how Fibrowatt came to the US in approximately 1990 (JT note – summarized in a previous blog post)
• Fibrowatt was invited to Minnesota by the turkey grower association, who was concerned with managing the waste from their production processes
• Benson has dealt with essentially the same team at Fibrowatt and HRE since 1990
• Following Fibrowatt’s introduction to the industry and farmers, there was a statewide competition, with about 30 locations submitting proposals. There was a down-select process, and Benson was shortlisted with two other towns
• Benson went after it, crafting a proposal to show why they were the best choice; mainly based on distance/location in proximity to the industry and on time to deliver
• Proposal included few incentives; during plant build-out the town provided some support on surveys, a grant of 50% of infrastructure costs was obtained, a sales tax abatement on purchased construction materials; during operation there is some relief from a state “personal property” tax that applies to power plants (tax targets a nearby nuclear plant)
• Sold the land a current commercial rates
Town’s infrastructure construction costs were about $350-$400K for water (JT note: I want to follow-up, I had the sense that the town has been reimbursed for these costs) (Clarification from Benson follows) The sewer and water capital improvements needed for Fibrowatt cost about $550,000 total. The state paid half the cost with a grant to the city and the company reimbursed the other half from financing proceeds at financial closing. The company is charged city regulated utility rates for back-up power, water and wastewater services.

2. A big part of the discussion in Luray is a concern about potential emissions. I’ve seen some information about a violation and a settlement at the Benson plant. Can you offer any insight to this?

• Benson is a small town of 3,500 people, the plant is in the city limits
• Understanding of this violation was that it stemmed from commissioning and start-up activities, early stage shake downs
• Commissioning contractor at fault, but Fibrowatt is the permitted company so bears responsibility
• Fibrowatt agreed to pay fine and upgrade equipment
• May be some minor penalties related to being a day or two late in compliance
• Town has had no odor or emissions complaints by citizens in the 2.5 years of operations
• During longer permitting process, had the opportunity to redesign a high water use aspect of the plant to use less water

3. Going hand in hand with these concerns, there is a lot of activism from environmental groups in North Carolina related to the three Fibrowatt plants slated for that state. Were these interests present in Benson? Why do you think these causes are involved in North Carolina?

• A plant like this is going to encounter resistance from individuals
• In the NC case, appear to be well-funded interests, no similar issues in Benson
• Farmers recognized the nutrient value of the litter, but saw regulation coming up about its use and the prospective loss of its value
• Discussion here about the ability to apply litter only twice a season in Minnesota due to climate, issues about storage, risk of run-off due to large storage “dumps”
• As a farming community, Benson recognized the value of the opportunity as a job creation impact, less concerned with other potential impacts

I'll post the second half of the interview over the weekend.  Comments on this issue are welcome, and I am glad to share a copy of these notes in MS Word by request.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Clarendon Construction Update - February 2010

Taking a break from the Fibrowatt coverage to update the neighboring construction around my office. 

Things are moving fast now, the courses of brick masonry are nearly at the top of the larger building, and a lot of the fenestration is nearing completion.  Soon the outside construction will taper down and appearances of progress will be harder to detect.

On the mid-block building, I think they are close to topping out on the structure. 

Another project has begun within a block of these, that is creating some real traffic problems when combined with the snow.  I got news that my team (many of my economist colleagues work downtown in DC) will be moving to my building in Arlington in the late summer. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fibrowatts Citizen Council in Minnesota - Part 2

For today’s post, I am taking another look at the Citizen’s Advisory Panel in Benson, MN, this time for the period January 2005 – January 2007. For Page County readers who may be interested in checking them out, the minutes are an easy read and you can get through the four years of meetings in less than 2 hours; of course I have summarized them here and yesterday for convenience. The Benson, MN CAP is shown in the photograph here – as with the plant photos, if anyone has a copyright issue with my using this image, please let me know in the comments and I will work with you to make it right.

After Fibrowatt had established itself in the area, the city’s sponsorship was ended and the group operated under the company’s sponsorship. During this period the plant was constructed, and progress tours were a frequent part of the agenda, along with safety and percentage complete briefings. Meetings were not held on a monthly basis, taking place on more like a bi-monthly basis, since efforts were mainly focused on construction at this time and there were few community issues coming up.

The first meeting, January 2005, reported on the financing from Prudential, John Hancock, and others, which was completed in December 2004. Long-lead items had been ordered and were in fabrication, with on-site construction scheduled to begin in the Spring. After selecting the EPC contractor, Fibrowatt arranged introductions for the local companies with the contractor for procurement opportunities.

During the remainder of the 2005 meetings, topics included:

  • Discussion of Fibrowatt’s receipt of a request for information regarding a Maryland Eastern Shore plant
  • Boiler fabrication status and construction of the supporting facilities
  • Public review of plant exterior color
  • Piling status and coordination of schedules to ensure noise management
  • Plant tours, viewing structural steel and foundations progress, as well as computer renderings of major components
  • The lack of community complaints, and the desire of Fibrowatt to keep an open-door policy to allow for resolution should they arise.
In 2006, construction continued in earnest, with 80 craft workers reported as being on site during January. This number grew during the year to 115 in March, and approached 300 by October. Progress continued with a very safe record, the CAP minutes indicate no injuries on the site. And the record does not include any references to community complaints or any issues during the plant construction stage.

There are a couple of references to the stack height at the plant. It was designed to be 300 feet tall, and since the plant site is near the Benson airport, there were FAA compliance issues that needed to be completed, mainly regarding the lighting.

In July, there was discussion of the sourcing area for litter, and the need for a wider geographic area in case of disease or other issues with the growers. Also, there is a reference to the other types of biomass that could be used to mix in with litter, augmenting it and ensuring a consistent fuel supply.

A last item that was covered in significant detail was the ash processing. Ash from the plant contains most of the same chemical and nutrient content as the raw litter, with the exception of the Nitrogen. The ash can be processes into fertilizer, and a company called North American Fertilizer planned to locate a processing plant in close proximity to the Fibrowatt plant. This company met with the CAP to explain how its operation was conducted and to show renderings of the future plant.

The last CAP meeting recorded in these meeting minutes was in January 2007. The plant was at 80 percent complete at that time. No public complaints had been received, and further meetings postponed until later in the Spring, when the plant was anticipated to be complete and in operation.

These meeting minutes can be found at:


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fibrowatts Citizen Council in Minnesota - Part 1

I spent some time over the last few days reviewing the Fibrominn website – this being the Minnesota power plant built and owned by Fibrowatt (I borrowed the plant photo from their site - if anyone has objections or views this as a copyright issue, let me know by comments, please).

My intention was to learn of the Citizens Advisory Panel (CAP) operated and dealt with potential community issues, including truck traffic, odors and emissions. In general, the meeting minutes are short on details regarding the technical discussions that were surely held, especially during the meetings where environmental permitting issues were raised, but in general, they report a straightforward process that engaged and informed the community.

The CAP process happened in two phases, first as a City of Benson effort that started in April 2001 and went through October 2003. After that, and the subject of a future post, the effort was sponsored by Fibrominn for the remaining time it was in operation. The first group was a 12 member panel of local citizens chosen to represent the Benson community and provide public input during the development, construction and operation of the Fibrominn project. Their mission statement was: “Citizens and Fibrominn working together to transmit and receive information and provide feedback to ensure community ownership and awareness.

During the very first session of the Benson CAP, the following assumptions, concerns, and issues were discussed:

  • The trucks will be cleaned and disinfected before leaving the plant
  • The goal is to have zero discharge of water
  • The signing of the Excel Energy purchase agreement, with a reference to Minnesota’s Biomass energy mandate
  • Assumptions that other types of biomass would be used at the plant
  • Goal of 500K tons of biomass/manure fuels annually
  • About one half of the manure contracts were signed
  • Storage period for litter of 5-10 days
At the conclusion of this first meeting, a progress report was given regarding the site plan, and the procurement of a construction contractor, which was to begin immediately.

As the meetings progressed, the discussions moved on to the types of fees that would be paid to the city, including: land lease, backup power and generation fees, sewer fees, four kinds of water fees. There is also a discussion about the arrangement of various tax exemptions. The types of real estate property taxes to be made, and wetlands management requirements, since the site had proximity to an airport where designations had been previously made – this also created a downstream issue on permitting the plant’s exhaust stack.

A couple of the meeting minutes that might be of particular issues to Page County readers are the September 2001 meeting, which specifically discusses odors, steam emissions, and the like; and the March 2002 minutes, which discusses the selection of the construction contractors, time frames for construction and questions about construction labor. These links follow today's post.

As the CAP effort continued, permitting occupied a lot of the discussion. The process took upwards of a year with periods of public review and comment and revision to the submissions. In July 2002, there was a discussion of exhaust limits, permissible types of biomass fuels, and even road dust and noise impacts. At one point during the permitting process, enough time had passed that the design of the exhaust systems was reviewed and changed – with a positive impact on overall water use at the plant by changing to an air cooled system.

The final meeting under Benson sponsorship was held in October 2003. By that time, apparently construction was underway – I should mention that a Canadian firm was selected, and there was broad discussion about this decision. The other main issue at the time was the FAA clearance for stack height due to proximity to the Benson airport – this issue had been resolved by that time.

Next post will look at the Fibrominn CAP process, which began after the Benson group ended in 2003. Reference links in today’s post:

Main page about the CAP process:  http://www.fibrominncap.org/index.html

September 2001 minutes with discussions about odors, steam emissions, etc.: http://www.fibrominncap.org/minutes/2001-09-25%20Benson%20CAP.pdf

March 2002, selection of Canadian contractor and general questions about construction:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chimney Chore

Weather and work deadlines kept us away from the Hawksbill Cabin for a longer interval than usual, and Mary and I needed to get out there to check in and see how things had fared during the snowpocalypse. Mary had made arrangements for the driveway to be plowed – twice, and she’d had our roofer Alan come out and shovel the snow off of the roof after the first big snow this month. Between the big December and January snows Alan had come up to install ice breakers and to upgrade the flashing at the base of the chimney, so this visit was also the first time we’d be able to check out his work on this small project.

The back of the house is partially below grade, so the above ground portion of that wall is between six and seven feet high. The snow that I shoveled off the roof in December lay back there in the shade, forming what ski resorts would call a respectable base of between two and three feet. In these approach photos, you can see that with the additional snow and from Alan’s shoveling, the snow was as deep as five feet behind the house, nearly blocking the clerestory windows.

We’ve had leaking on the chimney wall during heavy summer rains and also after the December snow began to melt. So my goal was to go up, shovel some snow from the roof, and then clear the chimney cap – where there was about two feet of snow remaining. I worked on this for about an hour – a wet and icy standing seam metal roof is slippery, so be warned, sports fans – and finally had the area cleared well enough to take a look at the new flashing job.

This is a technical solution to our leak problem, and it is often used for stone chimneys. The uneven surface doesn’t allow for a standard flashing installation to be effective, so you cut into the stone, inserting the edge of the flashing inside of the chimney. There is a mechanical attachment of the flashing to the base of the chimney, and then the overlap extends to the surface of the roof.

We talked to a couple of architect friends about the problem, including a couple of historic preservation specialists, before we settled on this approach. Fortunately, Alan was familiar with the method and was able to execute it for us. While there was no trace of the old leaking inside the house this time, I cleared the chimney cap off for good measure. Seems to be working so far.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Some Fibrowatt Anwers, Part 2

Pulling out another comment from Terry at Fibrowatt as a stand alone post.  This one refers to some questions reader Jay posted a few days ago:

To permit and construct a modern biomass power plant, it requires a very extensive permitting process that will look at potential emissions under worst-case conditions and demonstrate that even under these conditions the plant will meet very stringent environmental requirements. These plants require very extensive emission control systems that are far more protective of air quality than older existing coal plants. Furthermore, one of the important considerations with a plant in the Shenandoah Valley is the consideration that must be given to protecting visibility in this area. As part of the permuting process, a plant of this size located in the Valley would have to demonstrate that it would not adversely effect visibility in nearby "Class 1 Federal Areas" such as the Shenandoah National Park.

You are right to value the resources of the Shenandoah Valley as would we. One of the reasons a Fibrowatt project would make sense in this area is the important benefits it can offer to protecting local water resources, providing an important new source of renewable energy that could displace existing coal-fired power plants, and can support poultry growers efforts to be good environmental stewards.

Terry Walmsley - Fibrowatt LLC

Some Fibrowatt Answers, Part 1

I am pulling this response from a comment I received from Terry at Fibrowatt:

In response to Mr. Shoemaker's comments ---

In regard to jobs: One of the important aspects of a Fibrowatt plant is jobs - construction jobs and permanent employment associated with fuel receipt and fuel processing, fuel procurement, electrical and instrument technicians, plant maintenance, plant operators, control room operators, and plant management. At the forum Mr. Shoemaker refers to we were asked about the job potential and I explained that the typical plant employment is between 30 - 35 people. Many of these jobs are very skilled jobs which pay well. If Mr. Shoemaker is suggesting that only a few of these jobs (entry-level jobs) can be filled by the local work force I think he is selling the labor force in Surry County North Carolina short. As we have said many times, we value qualified and skilled workers, workers that likely already exist in the region. Furthermore, these are skills that can be gained in anticipation of a plant that will likely not be up in operation for 2 years or more. At our plant in Minnesota, we have seen dedicated and hard working individuals living in Benson move up through the plant work force. As an example, one of the general contractor's security guards (that grew up in Benson), after they began working at the Fibrominn plant, has risen from the fuel receipt position to a plant operator, several grades above what they started at. We value local workers as they have the roots in the community that will lead to good job retention.

Furthermore, his reference to what was said about construction jobs is far from accurate. As I explained at the Dobson forum, the plant will be built by an engineering, procurement, and construction company and they will have responsibility for the construction labor force. Construction jobs will go to qualified and skilled trade workers that can meet the needs of the EPC contractor. These too are skills that will exist within Surry County and this region of NC. What is important is that this is likely a 24 month construction period that will employ locally and bring in labor resulting in a significant flow of money into the local economy.

As also mentioned in previous posts, there are a number of supplemental jobs associated with transportation and the manufacturing of the ash by-product fertilizer. Studies in NC indicate that for every one of the jobs at a renewable energy plant as many as 1-2 additional jobs are created or supported.

If readers are interested in the challenges experienced in Minnesota regarding plant start-up and emissions, I suggest they go to the Fibrowatt website where they will find a discussion on this issue.

Finally, feel free to investigate what the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League says but do this with caution. As we have found on several occasions, BREDL has made a number of accusations that have been riddled with wrong assumptions and misinformation. Please spend a little time on the Fibrowatt website and you will get a flavor of how BREDL has inaccurately portrayed Fibrowatt as explained in our October 5, 2009 release.

Terry Walmsley, Fibrowatt LLC

A list of questions for Fibrowatt

Commenter Jay has raised a great list of due diligence questions, so I am pulling them out into a post.  Here we go:

I would love to see a couple clear pages of known facts from Fiberwatt.

--how many tons of chicken litter will be burned each week.

--How many tons of other combustibles?

--What exactly will these other combustibles be?

--How many trucks will be driving into their factory each day?

--How many fulltime local jobs will be created and maintained once the plant is built?

--How many of these jobs will go to people who live in Page Co currently vs. jobs given to people who are imported from out of the area. It's common for corporations to bring in management and technical staff from outside headquarters.

--Provide pollution results from their plant in Minnesota. They have more than enough data now to back up any claims they make. Independent studies would of course be more believable.

--Who will build the transmission lines, industrial roads, and other infrastructure needed at Project Clover to support their plant.

--What projected taxes to they plan to pay annually that will benefit Page County? Would like to see it projected over a 10-year period.

--Explain how they dispose of the burnt materials from their plant. Will it be sent to Battle Creek dump?

--Where will they get the water they need to feed such a large energy plant?

--Where will they dispose of their dirty water?

--What tax breaks are they asking for from Page County to come here.

These are the answers anyone would need to begin having an informed opinion.

You can probably see it from space

One of the things I remember about snowfalls like the ones we've had last week - and like the DC area had in '96 and '03 - is the big piles of snow that are left behind after the plows come through.

Yesterday at the Arlington shopping center where I get my shirts done (there is also a Starbucks there, and the famous Italian Store deli) I noticed the piles were taking up about a third of the lot.  They'll be there into March, and as the days warm up and people sit at the cafe tables, lingering in the shopping center, there will be traffic making it unpleasant to run errands here.  The snow gets pretty ugly while it's waiting to melt too.

Then, when I got home, I found that they'd come back through and plowed the streets in our neighborhood.  While we were lucky and they didn't block our driveway, they did add to the pile in front of the house - it's over 7 feet tall now.  I couldn't even begin to guess when this will melt away!

Friday, February 12, 2010

When I first became aware of Fibrowatt, one of the questions a friend raised was this one: “You would be removing thousands of tons of poultry litter from the ground that might otherwise have found its way into the Chesapeake Bay. What is the effect of poultry litter on the Chesapeake Bay? More importantly, what is the effect of poultry litter in the more immediate area of disposal?” So I thought I might take a few minutes and look into this further.

Another friend wrote me about the impact of chicken litter as fertilizer, and why its use is regulated:

“The whole reason that litter is being regulated is the P (Phosphorus). P binds to negatively-charged soil particles and thus becomes unavailable for plant uptake. This is why our soil levels are high in P – it is not mobile, and litter in general is high in P. Farmers are using the litter as a cheap source for N, but the problem is the buildup of P. When we get heavy rains and soil erosion, the soil, laden with P, flows into the river and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.”

High level scans of a few Wikipedia articles on pollution in the Chesapeake Bay reference Phosporus as a major component. This issue is also referenced in a Washington Post article I found about a potential Fibrowatt plant on the Eastern Shore (link at the end of the blog post):

“If successful, the project also will help reduce a source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Although the raw waste has long been recognized as a top-notch fertilizer, if applied too heavily, it can flush into waterways and eventually the bay. That has led to severe restrictions on its use.”

My friend closed his message with a thought about using the litter ash as fertilizer: “…the idea that the farmer is going to buy the P back is doubtful, since that is the exact nutrient that is causing all of the problems.”

Another source of information on these impacts can be found on the Yadkin River Keeper website (link below), where the organization has taken an aggressive approach to inform the public about Fibrowatt’s combustion processes and other impacts. Noteworthy is a white paper document that can be found on their site (by scrolling to the bottom and clicking on “APPENDIX” – I could not get this link to work from my blog), which lists a wide range of chemical emissions, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, and hydrochloric acid. The Yadkin River Keeper document cites a number of sources for this work, specifically permitting documents that outline how and when these emissions can occur.

Another point of interest from the Yadkin group is the requirement for water to operate the plant. The town of Elkin, where one of the NC locations is proposed to be located, had agreed to provide approximately 300,000 gallons of water per day for plant operations. This is a requirement and an impact that Page County will need to examine in further detail, both from a supply standpoint and a waste discharge standpoint.

This data suggests that significant work needs to be done on negotiating the prospect for a Fibrowatt plant here, and raise the same issues that a number of blog readers have commented on:

  • Can these emissions be managed so that they don’t impact Page County’s primary industry – tourism (both for the Caverns and other private stakeholders as well as for the Shenandoah National Park)?

  • Can the county and neighboring towns afford to make the infrastructure investments that are needed to support a plant like this?

  • How will the proposed plant impact the agricultural sector, including growers, poultry farms, and supporting industry?

These are just a few of the questions the information in today’s post brings to mind. My next step is to review the citizens’ council records in Minnesota and North Carolina to see how the company and communities engaged these issues – that will help shed some light on what might happen in Page County.

On a closing note, I mentioned yesterday that my purpose is not to advocate one way or another on the prospect of a Fibrowatt plant in Page County. I’m going to stand by that statement and want the blog to be a source of information for due diligence on the question. But there is one opinion that I still hold, and want to repeat, regarding Project Clover as a destination for industrial use.

From the information above, it is clear once again that the real estate at Project Clover is not suited for industrial use – Fibrowatt or otherwise. For one thing, the potential for visible emissions in the center of the Valley is an unacceptable impact to the area’s natural beauty. The land there is in the “viewshed” of the National Park, visible from Big Meadow Lodge and Skyland Lodge, as well as several important summits (Hawksbill, Stonyman, and Miller’s Head) and historically significant overlooks on Skyline Drive.

The infrastructure is not present at Clover to support these uses. The roadways cannot sustain increased vehicular traffic and loads. The geology may enhance the risk of negative environmental impacts. It’s much better to see this kind of development elsewhere in the county, closer to highways that can handle truck traffic and where power and water infrastructure likely already exist.

I’d note again that this is a general statement of my opinion, not specific to the Fibrowatt plant, although if the issues cannot be resolved, it makes additional industrial development in the county unfeasible.

References today:


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Biomass Energy Stakeholders - for and against

The biomass energy question is one that hits a lot of stakeholder sensitivities – those concerned with the environment (whether that is at a basic level of awareness, or involves a broader, systematic concern); those concerned with continued development and the accompanying growth in energy use (sustainable or not); and of course, the industries that would be affected by legislation and would see operating costs increase.

So for this post, I want to spend some time looking at environmental issues around the biomass combustion process, focused on poultry litter. I won’t be comprehensive here – the blog format doesn’t really provide for that, but I will touch on the things I have become aware of so far during the research.

There are quite a few “alternative energy stakeholders” that have weighed in on these questions. Some have active campaigns going – organizations like www.energyjustice.net and Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (www.bredl.org ). They seek to raise awareness of issues and actively campaign against the initiatives that affect their constituency. As I’ve perused their materials and websites, I categorize them as “against” generally – and also “without answers” to some of the pressing issues in society today.

Some of their arguments are unsourced, and there are differing opinions on the accuracy of their analytical models. Frankly, it’s na├»ve to deny that there is a growing demand for energy in the world, and to think that we can pop up a wind turbine anywhere we want to answer that demand – and if that’s the only answer that can be given to why wind energy is better than biomass combustion energy, we’re not going to get very far.

Let’s take a look at two outputs of the combustion process: dioxin and nitrogen oxide. I read a paper (link below) analyzing dioxin sources in Denmark today – it looked at large-scale waste incineration and “residential wood combustion plants” as the two main sources of dioxin emissions. Emissions regulation increasingly requires filtration and treatment at plants, decreasing emissions by 17 percent by 2003. On the other hand, increasing residential use of pellet stoves and other wood fired heating appliances caused the impact from households to increase by 16 percent during that timeframe. My takeaway is that this is an example of an output that can be managed through regulation…first target is commercial and industrial users…but who is going to take on the residential part of this issue? It has to be a systematic approach, doesn’t it?

On the nitrogen oxide side of this analysis, from a Biomass Magazine article (linked below), I learned that managing this greenhouse gas was one of the reasons the Fibrominn plant took so long to become operational. Operating at this scale was part of the problem, but work on managing the gas was aggressive. In the end the plant was approved by the citizens’ council there in Benson.

There’s a lot more ground to cover on this topic. There is the issue of arsenic residue in chicken litter – where does that go in the process? I think it’s safe to say that if the litter is simply spread on the ground, it goes in the ground, then via runoff into local aquifers, into the Shenandoah River, Potomac River, and then to the Chesapeake Bay. So there’s an element of responsibility for problems inherent in the status quo, too. The problem is relevant to both sides of the question – using litter as a simple fertilizer or using it as fuel for electricity production, which suggests that both stakeholder groups should manage it.

For my next post on this topic, I want to try and find some information about how poultry litter impacts the Chesapeake – and what sorts of regulation are in place to manage those impacts. I’ll be looking at a paper from a “river keeper” organization in North Carolina in that post as well.

Remember, this blog is not in the business of advocating, so don’t get the wrong impression – I’m simply trying to consider these questions with an open mind.

Today's sources:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Reader Comments on Fibrowatt

From the comments that we’ve been collecting on all the Fibrowatt posts, I’ve been pulling some of them out as standalone posts themselves. Here are two that I received today – thanks readers, for getting involved in the topic.

From Ralph Shoemaker:

“When Mr Walmsley appeared at the Commission meeting in the high school gym in Dobson, N.C. he was asked about jobs that might be made available with the building of a plant being considered in Elkin, N.C. His responce when pinned down to facts and not broad statements was that the would be 10 to 12 entry level jobs available at the plant site. When questioned about the construction jobs being mentioned he admitted that those would be imported from a firm out of state. The man has to be pinned down to get a truthful answer. I bet he has not mentioned the fact that the plant in Benson, Minn has been charged with violations of the pollution standards established by the company to obtain a permit and was fined by the Attorney Generals Office for the state of Minn. for these violations. The thing any community must be concerned with in dealing with Fibrowatt LLC in air and water pollution the plant will bring. A recent study by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) shows the burning of chicken manure to be dirtier than burning coal. Please be sure to consider all aspects before buying into a health problem for your citizens.”

From Jay Dedman:

“Here's the obvious questions people are asking: will a biomass incinerator produce an abundance of smoke? We live in a valley and it's not crazy to imagine a thick haze build up. We already have reduced visibility with haze from coal plants in the region.

“There's a reason why trash incinerators are not common anymore. We bury garbage for a reason.

“It would be a shame if we sacrificed the biggest treasure of Page County--the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley--for less than full-time 100 jobs.”

Is biomass energy really green energy?

A few days ago, in one of the early posts about the potential of Fibrowatt coming to the Shenandoah Valley, I wrote that it would be exciting to have those “green energy” jobs here. It got me thinking about whether biomass energy is really a sustainable form. This question may be the basis of some of the community resistance to Fibrowatt in North Carolina (I am gathering info for a future post on this), so I thought I would it would be a good idea to look into it further.

First quote here is from the Energy Information Agency (EIA), which is part of the Department of Energy. There is a reference URL at the end of this post.

“Biomass is organic material made from plants and animals. Biomass contains stored energy from the sun. Plants absorb the sun's energy in a process called photosynthesis. The chemical energy in plants gets passed on to animals and people that eat them.

“Biomass is a renewable energy source because we can always grow more trees and crops, and waste will always exist. Some examples of biomass fuels are wood, crops, manure, and some garbage.

“When burned, the chemical energy in biomass is released as heat. If you have a fireplace, the wood you burn in it is a biomass fuel. Wood waste or garbage can be burned to produce steam for making electricity, or to provide heat to industries and homes.”

So the federal government considers biomass to be green energy because it is a renewable source. The process involved at Fibrowatt (graphic to the left), burning the biomass, is one of several methods that can be used to produce energy from biomass – in their case, poultry litter sometimes supplemented with other materials. For example (sourced from the second reference URL at the end of the post):

Alcohol Fermentation – conversion of organic starches into sugar by heating, the fermenting with yeast, for the production of ethyl or grain alcohol – “ethanol.” After distillation, ethanol is usually blended with another fuel, as with “gasohol.” This process uses fossil fuels in production of the alternative fuels, so it’s inefficient and is not exactly sustainable.

Anaerobic Digestion – converting biomass, especially human, animal, and agricultural waste, into methane and carbon dioxide. The biomass is mixed with water and stored in an airtight tank, where a natural process does its work – this is considered a costly but efficient process for biomass energy production.

Pyrolysis – this process heats biomass in sealed containers without oxygen, producing gas and charcoal from the decomposition of the materials. While the process reduces carbon dioxide output, which is one of the side effects of the other processes, it requires the biomass to be heated to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit – a process that requires significant amounts of energy in its own right.

So, while there are pros and cons related to the material – chicken litter, and the process – combustion, this review doesn’t indicate why the environmental reaction in NC is so strong. So, I went in a bit further, this time to Wikipedia, about the combustion process to see if I could find the reasons for the resistance. As with the others, there is a reference link at the end of the post.

It turns out that all of the resources I reviewed for today’s post mention the potential for gas and particulate emissions from the biomass combustion process – greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and particulates and hydrocarbons that contribute to effects such as acid rain. Modern combustion technologies are designed to improve management of these byproducts, so that the effects are reduced or even eliminated. In any case, the biomass process is much cleaner than fossil fuel combustion, including coal-fired electrical generation. As noted in the Wikipedia article:

“A problem with the combustion of raw biomass is that it emits considerable amounts of pollutants…even modern pellet boilers generate much more pollutants than oil or natural gas boilers. Pellets made from agricultural residues are usually worse than wood pellets…” However, “…numerous studies have shown that biomass fuels have significantly less impact on the environment than fossil based fuels.”

The article goes on to summarize the findings of a Department of Energy study on the matter, which discusses the effects of sequestering the green house gases output during the process. While this creates inefficiencies and costs in the firing process, over the life-cycle of the plant there is a significant positive impact on what’s called GWP or Global Warming Potential.

Let’s summarize the pros and cons based on this review of the biomass combustion process.

Pros – offers an alternative method for disposing of poultry waste, instead of spreading it or landfilling it. It has a reduced environmental impact when compared to the combustion of other fuels. Poultry litter, as an industrial-agricultural by-product, is readily available.

Cons – there is the potential for particulate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion process. Due to transport and other requirements, it is not the most efficient energy production methodology, and therefore, it is likely to be more expensive energy than other processes.

Going back to the “Thinkquest” article cited below, biomass provides about four percent of the energy used in the US. Fibrowatt’s technology is one of quite a few that explore, and implement, the use of this fuel, with the expected impact that there may be an overall reduction in particulate pollution and greenhouse gas emission.

I still have a few posts to get through on the potential of a Fibrowatt plant in Page County. But I want to take a moment here to say thanks to loyal readers who have made it through this long and technical post on the biomass combustion process. I’ll look forward to gathering data for the next one – and your comments and questions are welcome!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More snow on the way

They're saying the DC area is going to be hit again with a snow fall today, so nobody seems to be taking chances with the traffic.  Today I am on that bandwagon after checking the VDOT webcams along my route to my client's site.  There is still packed ice and slush in the roadway.  Thanks but no thanks!

Yesterday, only the far left lane (the fast lane) was cleared, everywhere else was packed with ice and slush.  There was a two or three inch edge to that.  I managed to trek safely but it's not an experience I'd care to repeat.  Despite all of this, I even encountered an impatient jerk yesterday behind the wheel, tailgating, AND on the cell phone.  C'mon people, remember, we're all in this together!  Your 7-11 corn dog and big gulp stop can wait by crikees!

I checked weather.com - maybe the Valley will be spared or get a lighter snow this time.  From what I'm hearing, they could use it.  The Guard was out to help evacuate people stuck without heat, and I have been hearing about long term power outages.  I'm sorry we can't be there to help out right now.

From Sally and Dan, we heard that the power has stayed on in the hollow, but the state hasn't been back to plow the road - it's a tertiary road and it may be a few more days.  They've had the fire going and have ventured out for cross country skiing, and since all of their vehicles are four wheel drive they can get out when they need to. 

Our roofer Alan went to the Hawksbill Cabin on Saturday.  He said we'd accumulated 35 inches of snow on the low-pitch roof...he and his team shovelled that off for us.  He'd driven in with a tracked vehicle, I'm guessing a skid steer or something, and his crew followed in the truck.  It was a relief to know all that snow is off of the roof, but it is piled behind the house now and who knows when it will melt away!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Clarification #2: Some Points on Biomass Energy Sources

This is a second clarifying post from Fibrowatt's Terry Walmsley, adding to the discussion from some of the posts last week. Pretty informative - thanks again for posting, Terry.


You mention the comparison with woody biomass. Often, poultry litter is drier than the woody biomass that is used for large-scale energy generation (as opposed to firewood or sawdust & shavings). Wood chips for use in power plants often come from green wood from forestry operations. So actually, based on moisture alone, less litter would be needed. On the other hand, poultry litter has a lot of dirt/nutrient content from the feed ration and the barn floor. As a result, a Fibrowatt plant may require more litter fuel than wood fuel based on the inert content as opposed to moisture content.

It should be understood that we also use woody biomass as a supplemental fuel as it covers periods when litter deliveries are lower and makes it easier to manage the litter when these are mixed together for storage and conveying to the boiler.

With regard to the transportation, we try to maximize the litter payload and this material is far more dense than wood. We try to reach a maximum payload when transporting litter, well above 14 - 20 ton loads you mention. Furthermore, the transportation side of our business is a point of emphasis as we must meet important poultry industry requirements for our transportation. As a result, we are very involved in the requirements of truck type and enclosed payloads. If you look at our operation in Minnesota, we have tightly covered loads as a basic requirement and these truck tarps are inspected when they arrive at the plant. Tight trucks mean no loss of fuel and no odor problems.

With regard to poultry litter storage. You are right that poultry litter smells, that is why all litter is stored inside a fully enclosed fuel hall. To control odor, we establish what is defined as "negative pressure" to ensure that air flows into the fuel hall, but not out. This is done by drawing our combustion air from within the fuel hall, and thereby destroying these odors in the combustion process. All trucks are unloaded within the fuel hall. Stand outside of a truck delivery door and you can feel the air flowing into the building. Best evidence of the success of negative pressure is that after 2.5 years of operation we have not had an odor complaint. The size of the storage area is far less than you mention because we stack the litter in large piles within the enclosed fuel hall using cranes to move it from delivery, storage, and processing prior to conveying to the boiler building in a fully enclosed conveying system.

Terry Walmsley
Fibrowatt LLC

Clarification #1: Fibrowatt and Transportation Jobs

Friends, I had a couple of notes from Terry Walmsley at Fibrowatt over the weekend, so thought we might start the week with these. They were posted as comments to previous posts, I'm just pulling them out to stand on their own here.

Today, a clarification on transportation jobs, and the Minnesota project's timeline:


Hope you don't mind on the clarifications but a few points to add.I don't agree with you on the transportation jobs. While these may be taken by existing truckers, this is new work (i.e. new jobs) because litter generally is moved from barn to field by the grower or the local farmer. Haulers for Fibrowatt are new opportunities that did not previously exist as we will source our litter from a larger geographic area than from local barn-to-farm.

In Benson Minnesota the new hauling business was so important that a large regional transportation company that serves the plant actually moved their operation from down-state Minnesota to Benson. This new $million+ facility serves as the hub for 75 trucking jobs. This facility also has increased the local labor force as it includes their operations and maintenance facilities. Importantly, only a portion of these trucking jobs are related to the Fibrominn agreement. As a result of the Benson plant, this new employment center brought many more jobs to the area than just the Fibrominn related jobs.

Also, it is probably not appropriate to use the Minnesota plant as the expected timeline for future projects. Since this was the first US project, it required far more time to permit, finance, and complete construction of the project.

Terry Walmsley
Fibrowatt LLC

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Leylands are Goners

Taking some advice from friends, I went out to see if I could do anything for our privacy screen of leyland cypresses.  The sticky snow clung to them and has them bent to the ground - on both sides of the fence, so they are bent over the neighbors yard too.

There's a view from the front drive way looking back first - if you can imagine a green way about 20 feet high here, that's what it used to look like.
They've bent over and seem to be held up by the roof in back or by the power line, or both.  I went out with a wood pole, being careful to find the electric line, so that I could knock some of the snow off.  It's just too thick - up to 15 inches laying on the sideways branches. 

Here they are bent to the ground in the backyard.  At least for these, I could get some of the snow off of them.  But the rest is going to have to melt, just don't know what else we can do for them.

Luckily, they are pretty resilient.  Looks like a heavy pruning year for them.

Inside the snow bunker

When our neighbor Dorothy was over for a visit last night, we speculated on what our streetscape would look like in the morning after the plows came through.  She expected her drive way to be blocked, and it is, and we didn't quite know what to expect. 

We live at an intersection and I figured that they'd take extra care to clear it; I even parked a little ways up the street to be out of the way. My car is the first pile on the left in the photo looking up the street.  Some of our neighbors are RNs, they are already digging out this morning in case they get called in.

This sunny morning after, as I walked out to check our walks and observe the neighborhood preparing for the dig out, I was greeted by this wall of snow that has been piled in front of our house.  It's taller than some cars and many neighbors, and I think it is big enough to be seen from space.  I don't have any idea how long it will take to melt either - it may not be until March before I can park in this space again.

I wanted to send a note to our friends in Page County, some of whom have lost power, and can't even read this because of it - I wish we could be there to help out.  We'll be thinking of you, and hope we can get out next week.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Earning my keep in the snowpocalypse

I went out a couple of hours ago to shovel, first clearing the steps and a couple of alternative sites for Sofie and then going ahead and doing a first pass on the walks. Turns out, the other three neighbors on the corners of my intersection were out at the same time. So we had some good conversations shouting to each other between shovels full.
I parked my car up the street this time, away from the intersection. That has enticed the plow driver to come down our street twice already. I didn't expect that until tomorrow at the earliest!

I am still watching the Leylands with interest. Hopefully some of the weight will come off of them soon. I may do some preliminary exploring in a while - probably will pour a bourbon first so it can be waiting for me to come back...

Mary made us waffles and sausages for lunch. The sausages were those good chicken apple ones you can get at the Flower Market Cafe in San Francisco, a long-time favorite. (Shout out to Brian McG. and Cathy E. here!) And while it's not the chicken and waffles you can get at the LA Farmers' Market (Chris P.! Ryan B.!) it was pretty darn good eating. Here's Mary showing the waffles off. (How 'bout that gear, Appalachian Outdoors Adventures?)

You know, it really is all about the knife and fork for me (Bill G.!) -

C'mon in if you can make it to the stairs!


Well, in honor of how the media is calling this snowstorm, I'm setting up a label to track the posts. My sister has already uploaded some beautiful winter wonderland photos of her Anne Arundel County, MD neighborhood...here are some photos of ours in Alexandria, with a few more to follow.
I use the rail of our backyard deck as a relative measure. Here you can see, midway through the storm, that we are in the two foot range.

Also, our green wall of Leyland Cypress, normally reaching 30 feet in height, is bent over under the snow. I am watching this with some concern, as I think what is holding them up at the moment is the power line. The line visible in the photo here is our land line phone. My sister tells me they lost one of these today.

Finally, our pride and joy crepe myrtle is bent over from the storm - that's it hunched over in the center of this photo. I hope all of these plants are resilient enough to recover, I expect they are, without too much pruning this spring. We'll do what we have to.

Also, an update from the cabin. Our neighbors Sally and Dan report that the power is still on...I can imagine them all set up with a toasty fire in their place and I would love to join them for one of Dan's Flat Tail Ales...we have our roofer Alan heading out to check on the Hawksbill Cabin and have an update - he used a tracked vehicle to get into the holler, and reports two feet of snow on the Hawksbill Cabin's flat roof. He's going to do an interim sweep for us, so we won't have any lasting damage to the structure.

More to follow on Snowmaggedon.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Litter to Electricity: Process and Byproducts

Today, I want to go back and take another look at how poultry litter would be converted into electricity, drawing from a diagram that can be found on Fibrowatt’s web page, and from some analysis a couple of alert Facebook readers contributed. Besides providing a disposal method and producing electricity, there are a couple of byproducts of the process. After the overview, we can take a quick look at those; this will be a preview to the community outreach post about the Minnesota plant and the discussion of environmental impacts that is going on related to the North Carolina plants right now.

One of the insights that was shared is the similarity of this process to more traditional biomass processes, which is often used alongside coal-firing operations to reduce the amount of coal used. In that process, wood chips with a 45-55 percent would produce 1 megawatt of power from 10,000 tons per year – 350 days of plant operations per year. A 40 megawatt plant, the scale we’ve been using for reference in the Luray analysis, would need 400,000 tons of wood chips per year.

Poultry litter is drier than wood chips, which means more would be required, estimated at 10 to 20 percent more. That means 440,000 to 500,000 tons of litter.

Stopping for a moment here, the first impact to consider is the amount of truck traffic that is going to be required to haul the litter. As I understand it, a semi load of litter will range from 14 to 20 tons, requiring more than 25,000 truckloads a year, up to 70 per day. There is a careful process for covering the payload to limit how much is blown out of the trucks during transit, but that is a substantial increase in traffic that will need to be dealt with.

As far as the economics of trucking, no more than a 50-70 mile haul is likely to be cost effective. Since east and west traffic will come over the mountains, that cuts 20 miles off of the economical range. That describes and area that ranges south to Waynesboro/Stuarts Draft, north to Inwood, WV, east to Culpeper, and west to Bayse and Mathias, WV.

FACT CHECK NEEDED: Does anyone have an idea of whether this area has enough poultry houses to produce 500,000 tons of litter?

As far as litter processing at the plant goes, there are photos of the storage area on the Fibrominn site. A friend estimates that to maintain continuity, and because some storage time increases the efficiency of the litter burn, the fuel pile will cover 3-5 acres. It will smell – it’s poultry litter, not an exotic smell around Page County, but still there will be a lot of it. To be fair again, Fibrowatt has a strategy to manage this, and my review of their material will focus on how their communities responded to the approach.

Next, since the plants will burn the litter, there is the question of emissions. In the rendering I posted yesterday, the smoke stack is prominent, so no doubt some design effort has gone into management of this part of the process. Modern plants have done a lot of work to clean up their act on this issue, and I would expect a well controlled combustion process that provides for minor emissions. We have the Minnesota environmental permit application, so I’ll review that for details, also, a lot of the resistance in North Carolina is focused on this issue, attributing it to a potential increase in acid rain. So there will be more on this topic in a future post.

Aside from electrical power, ash is another output from the process. Using wood chips again as the example, this fuel produces 4 to 5 percent ash, or 225 tons of ash for 10,000 tons of fuel. There are three ways to dispose of this – landfills, which Page County has access to; composting, not likely since there will be 225 tons per day; and using it as fertilizer since it is a good source of potassium and phosphorus. The market value for this material ranges from $25 to $50 a ton.

This post's review of the process revealed and discussed the four major concerns of the communities where biomass plants, like the proposed Fibrowatt plant, are located – trucks, emissions, smells, and emissions. For both the Minnesota and the North Carolina projects, I’ve noted that community outreach efforts were established to educate, inform, and negotiate. Also, as I mentioned above, these are likely the basis of the environmental impact discussions in North Carolina. So our next step on the Hawksbill Cabin blog will be to take a more in depth look at these issues.