Wood Pellets Plant Falls Short

A wood pellets company which wants to set up shop in an economically depressed area of North Carolina, promising jobs and revenue, is falling woefully short of its projected impacts in Maine. 

Active Energy is the owner of CoalSwitch, a patented process for manufacturing wood pellets for fuel. The pellets are supposedly suitable for burning alongside coal in an unmodified coal-burning power plant. However, the company has manufactured only about eight tons of the pellets at its Maine plant, during a period when it was supposed to be delivering 900 to 1,000 tons of the product to a client in Utah. 

Active Energy is also developing a facility in Lumberton, where it has promised to deliver 50 to 100 jobs, a boost to the tax base, and a market for local timber cutting. Instead, they have had to suspend construction after making process changes which they said would reduce emissions. Instead, tests showed those changes would actually dramatically increase carbon monoxide and fine particulates emissions, compared to what the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had permitted. As a result of this new testing, DEQ ordered the company to stop its onsite work, and changes are pending further review.

That air emissions permit was issued last year over strenuous public objections concerning adverse impacts on public health and the environment. As is typical for polluting manufacturing processes, the community in which the Lumberton plant is located is disproportionately lower-income residents of color, bringing even greater environmental justice concerns.

These direct, more localized pollution issues come on top of the larger climate impact question of whether North Carolina should be backing a facility which would exacerbate the reduction of carbon absorption when trees are cut and then heighten carbon emissions when the wood is then burned for fuel.

In addition to its permit violation charges, the company is facing a federal lawsuit (PDF) from the Wynah Rivers Alliance representing fishing and recreation users of the waters downstream from the plant. 

The entire story thus far seems to be one of bad ideas, poor execution, and unfulfilled promises.

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