Pellet Plant Rezoning on Hold

WINNSBORO (Dec. 25, 2015) – Third and final reading to rezone two parcels of property near White Oak for the controversial AEC Pellet 1 USA wood pellet plant is officially on hold, Interim County Administrator Milton Pope said during County Council’s Dec. 15 meeting.

But that does not mean, Pope added, that the project may not ultimately move forward.

“The parent company, Abengoa, does have financial challenges,” Pope said during his Administrator’s report. “They’re looking at financially restructuring. The project itself is pending. The project has not been shelved.

“As far as the rezoning request, that has been placed on hold,” Pope added. “I do not know what the final determination of the company will be on that particular matter, but I would anticipate during the first part of the year maybe having some official statement regarding that.”

Spain-based Abengoa reportedly filed for preliminary creditor protection under Spanish Insolvency Law on Nov. 24. In early December, the company began implementing layoffs at facilities worldwide. Abengoa’s Arizona offices have been closed, according to media reports, with staff at its corporate offices in St. Louis down to a bare minimum. The entire staff, save for a handful of upper-management positions, at the company’s cellulose ethanol plant in Kansas has reportedly been put out of work and the plant has been idled since November.

Council passed first reading on Oct. 12 of an ordinance to rezone from RD (Rural Resource District) to I-1 (Industrial District) 2.01 acres owned by Rosezenna Cason White at 137 Cason Road, and 180 acres owned by Wateree Holdings LLC c/o Forest Investment Associates, also on Cason Road.

Second reading passed on Oct. 26, but not before 10 neighboring landowners spoke out against the plant.

Council announced the tentative arrival of AEC Pellet 1 during their Aug. 24 meeting, when they also passed third reading on and disclosed the details of the company’s incentives package.

Pope said during the Aug. 24 meeting that the terms of the Fee-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (FILOT) agreement included a $125 million investment by the company, as well as the creation of 75 new full-time jobs. AEC Pellet will be assessed at a ratio of 6 percent, Pope said, and will pay a fixed millage rate of 423.3 mills for their first 30 years. They will also receive a special source revenue credit of 60 percent per year for the first 10 years.

But in 10 years, there may be no market for what the plant produces, according to Emily Zucchino, a campaign organizer with the Asheville, N.C. environmental advocacy firm Dogwood Alliance.

“This market is based on European policies, which we know with working with policy makers in Europe will change in the next 10 years,” Zucchino told Council before the Oct. 26 second reading. “The wood pellet industry is an extractive export market to feed power plants in Europe, and is in a transitional market until these power plants switch to wind and solar. So my question for you is what happens to Winnsboro in 10 years when there are no longer subsidies in the market for these wood pellet facilities?”

Pollution is also a concern with wood pelleting plants, Zucchino said, with facilities generating fine particulate matter into the atmosphere. In N.C., she said, communities living near similar facilities have seen increases in respiratory illnesses, bronchitis and asthma.

According to DHEC documents, and as first reported in The Voice on Aug. 29, emissions generated by the facility would include particulate matter (less than 10 micrometers in diameter and less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter), nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP). The notice states, “a federally enforceable facility-wide limit of less than 250 tons per year” of the particulate matters, the carbon monoxide and VOC “would be established, thereby enabling the facility to be below Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) major source thresholds.”

Federally enforceable limits of 10 tons per year would also be established “of any single HAP, or less than 25 (tons per year) of total HAPs,” the documents state.

An air quality permit (permit number 1000-0039-CA) was issued to AEC Pellet on March 16, DHEC said.

White Oak resident Carrie Matthews presented Council during the Dec. 15 meeting with a petition she said was signed by 294 residents of the community opposing the plant.

“We’re not happy for the Abengoa plant company, that they are in such dire financial straits,” Matthews told Council, “but do hope that because of that situation the AEC Pellet company will be dropping plans altogether to locate in the White Oak community.”


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