Virginia Co-Op's Biomass Project Creating Jobs, along with Renewable Energy

By Mayberry, Anne | Rural Cooperatives, March-April 2012 | Go to article overview

Virginia Co-Op's Biomass Project Creating Jobs, along with Renewable Energy


Mayberry, Anne, Rural Cooperatives


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A biomass generation project currently under construction by the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) in Halifax County will not only increase the use of renewable energy to provide electricity, but it is expected to create several hundred jobs in a portion of the state grappling with high unemployment. NOVEC Energy Production, Halifax County Biomass is expected to generate up to 6.5 percent of the cooperative's electrical output by 2014, enough to meet the needs of about 16,000 residential customers.

"Investment in infrastructure is an investment in American workers," says Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of the Rural Utilities Program of USDA Rural Development, which helped finance the plant. "This project shows how financing utility projects pays off, both now and in the future."

Plant to generate 50 megawatts

The NOVEC biomass project, on the site of a former Georgia-Pacific manufacturing facility, will burn waste wood to generate nearly 50 megawatts of electricity. The waste will come from regional logging operations and the forest products industry near South Boston in Halifax County, along Virginia's North Carolina border.

Halifax County reached its peak population of more than 41,000 in 1950. Today's population of just over 36,000 is about the same as it was in 1900.

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Stan Feuerberg, NOVEC president and CEO, says the construction has already brought more than 100 jobs to the economically hard-hit region. He estimates that the project will bring 250 construction jobs to the Southside Virginia area during a two-year period. Once the system becomes commercially operable, the plant will require about 26 permanent jobs and 40 indirect jobs in forestry, logging and transportation.

"We expect to see an increasing number of indirect jobs harvesting waste wood," Feuerberg said. "As much as 30 percent of the tree is left after it is used for construction or furniture. Harvesting, chipping and trucking industries will likely grow."

The biomass plant will be cooled with "grey" water from a nearby wastewater treatment facility to help conserve the amount of potable water needed for plant operations. Biomass--such as agriculture and forest residues, energy crops and algae--are considered renewable energy sources.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, over one-half of renewable energy consumed in the United States in 2007 was generated by biomass. Many rural electric cooperative utilities use a variety of fuel sources to provide electric power. This diversity helps maintain a reliable and affordable electric supply by utilizing regional resources.

"This project is a win-win for all parties," says Feuerberg.

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