New plant to produce biomass fuel

Charleston Post and Courier
September 28, 2010

A new $50 million wood waste-burning plant that will produce biomass fuel for Santee Cooper’s renewable energy program will be built in Dorchester County by late 2012, bringing with it 20 jobs.

Southeast Renewable Energy plans to build three 15-megawatt plants around the state, and Santee Cooper will buy the power from the Alabama company, the Moncks Corner-based utility announced Monday.

The other plants will be built in Kershaw County and at a third site yet to be determined, all by of the end 2012, said Raine Cotton, Southeast Renewable Energy president and chief executive officer.

Each $50 million plant will create 20 jobs and support logging, trucking and related industries. The specific sites for each plant have not been determined, but Cotton said a decision could be made in the next two weeks. Construction could start by December.

The company, which started in the ethanol business in 2000 but switched to biomass fuels three years ago, currently has no other plants but plans to build two facilities similar to those in South Carolina in Alabama and another in Georgia.

Cotton said it was important to point out that the wood-burning plants are not viewed as traditional incinerators because they will burn “virgin timber residue” only.

Santee Cooper’s board of directors on Monday also approved a purchase power agreement with Domtar Paper Co. LLC for 50 megawatts of renewable biomass-fueled energy at the company’s Bennettsville pulp and paper mill in Marlboro County.

The proposed agreement with Domtar is for 15 years and still requires board approval from the company. Domtar has installed a generator as part of its existing process to utilize steam from wood waste, steam that also is used in making paper. Santee Cooper would purchase the electricity produced from the generator.

The Southeast Renewable Energy contract is for 30 years.

Together, the two contracts will provide Santee Cooper with 95 additional megawatts of biomass energy, boosting its 9-year-old renewable-energy program.

Santee Cooper already produces 22 megawatts of renewable energy from landfill methane gas, a type of biomass, which the utility markets to customers as Santee Cooper Green Power.

“These contracts significantly increase the amount of renewable power Santee Cooper can provide to our customers and signify our continuing commitment to environmental stewardship and economic development in our state,” said Lonnie Carter, the utility’s president and CEO. “These are exactly the sort of practical, cost-effective renewable projects that Santee Cooper wants to promote and support.”

Cotton called the contract significant for his company.

“Securing a power purchase agreement is the most important part of the planning and development stage for the biomass industry,” he said. “If you don’t have an off-taker, you can’t build a biomass plant.”

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