Madison Land Ordinance: Changes Coming, Residents Affected

MARSHALL — At least one energy company has contacted the county and Director of Development Services Brad Guth to explore the potential of Madison permitting a biomass facility, according to Director of Planning and Zoning Terrey Dolan.

Currently, the County Land Use Ordinance does not provide any provision for biomass facilities.

At its August 2 meeting – which continued from July 19 after council failed to reach a quorum – the Planning Board will consider making changes to the Land Use Ordinance for a new section to create and implement a new “Section 8.3 (Biomass Installations)” as a regulated land use category.

This new Section 8.3 of the Land Use Ordinance would provide specified permit conditional language to be used for review by the Board of Adjustment for any proposed biomass installations.

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Yet the term “biomass” eludes definition for many people, including Dave Penrose, president of Penrose Environmental Consulting LLC.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about biomass production, and that’s alarming to me,” Penrose said.

According to Dolan, the term “biomass” can mean different things.

“You walk down by (the old) White Duck Taco on Riverside Drive in Asheville, and there’s a big mulch plant (Riverside Stump Dump Inc.) that probably has 10 acres of different piles of mulch,” Dolan said. “It’s technically a biomass facility.

“Now another example is a wood pelleting company, where they’re trying to create an energy source to sell to a utility company. That’s a very basic explanation, because it’s a lot more involved than that. .”


Wood pellets, such as those featured here, are part of a rapidly growing industry in the Southeast.  Companies such as Enviva use unwanted parts of trees, such as wood chips and sawdust to create pellets, and ship them to Europe where they are burned for electricity.

Conservationists say these biomass facilities are a net loss for North Carolina communities, however.

Derb Carter is a senior counsel and attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“The Southern Environmental Law Center has been heavily involved with facilities that cut forests here in North Carolina and other southern states to manufacture wood pellets for export to European countries to be burned as” biomass,'” Carter said. “‘Biomass’ is a broad category of energy-producing materials which, essentially, organic matter, usually from dedicated agricultural crops, or in this case wood pellets, are burned to create heat and light. ‘electricity. “Biomass” generally refers to organic material. or derived from plant material that is used to produce energy, at least in the production of energy.”

In August 2007, North Carolina adopted the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities owned by state investors to acquire up to 12.5% ​​of their energy mix from renewable energy sources from 2021.

According to Carter, biomass fuel is being burned in Europe as a replacement for coal. European countries then claim carbon neutrality, and consequently receive heavy subsidies.

“The assumption is that the trees are going to regrow and absorb the carbon, but the big problems with that are that first of all, the trees are lost here, so you’ve lost that carbon storage here, and the trees aren’t able to keep going. to grow, so the lost carbon is not accounted for,” Carter said. “It’s kind of a perverse incentive that’s been created and is heavily subsidized, where all the carbon benefits are claimed in Europe. No carbon impact on the forests here is taken into account, nor the loss of the forest and its ecological biodiversity values.”

In the State Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Energy Plan released in October 2019, the DEQ rejects forest-derived biomass as a clean energy source and further sets out carbon and of climate underlying the use of woody biomass that led to pellet mills in North Carolina for export. should be challenged.

“Currently, the wood pellet industry does not contribute to NC’s power generation portfolio or advance NC’s clean energy economy,” the 2019 Clean Energy Plan said. There are currently no known plans for the industry to become a contributor to North Carolina’s energy sector in the coming years.”

State DEQ permits are required for the approval and operation of a proposed biomass facility, and the draft DEQ permit application would be made available to the applicant at the Board of Adjustment for review and review of the special use permit required.

Biomass commissioning specialist Rob Crowell toured the new biomass power plant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in 2012. Four vintage boilers were replaced with a gasification system from Nexterra's state-of-the-art biomass fueled by local wood chips.

In addition, the applicant will be required to provide detailed information about the planned activities and operations of the biomass facility to the zoning office for review and receive a sufficiency determination prior to scheduling the Board of Adjustment quasi-judicial hearing.

According to Dolan, the proposed changes to the land use ordinance would shield the county from legal trouble.

“(Guth) has received requests from various business entities reviewing the county’s ability to license biomass facilities in one form or another,” Dolan said. “They haven’t gotten to the stage where they’re laying out all their details. But we chose to say, ‘This is something we have to cover because we can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore this.’ But how do you protect all aspects of the county – the natural look like the air quality – while giving someone the legal ability to make a claim. That’s all we’re doing at this point.

Dolan said there is no demand for a biomass facility at this point.

“I’m just trying to build into the land use ordinance, that it has to be done, or we’re going to end up in a legal challenge at some point because we haven’t covered it. I tries to put forward a set of rules that should be followed by a candidate. It’s open for discussion. It’s just a working document at this stage.

“We have to put it in the ordinance and not continue to ignore it because it’s a land use that is gaining ground for one use or another,” Dolan said. “It is very difficult to find a regulatory comparison in rural eastern US counties”

The SELC map of “Southeastern US Wood Pellet Plants Exporting to Europe” shows that the nearest biomass facility is located in Greenwood, SC, an Enviva plant. Enviva is the world’s largest producer of sustainable wood pellets.

In the county land use ordinance, two land use districts, residential/agricultural and industrial, would be considered for special use permit approval of a biomass facility.

According to Dolan, currently less than 200 acres, or 0.00067% of all land in the county, is industrial land.

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Liz Gullum of Sustainable Madison hopes the county will set aside this industrial zoned land for any proposed biomass installations.

“Why would we decimate our virgin forests in Madison County in order to supply wood pellets to European countries?” Gulum said. “Biomass installations have no place in our environment. Since we can’t ban them, we can at least only allow them in areas of the county that are designated industrial. These are not suitable for residential zoning. -agricultural, of which most of Madison is included.”

While Marshall resident Jim Tibbetts, president of Clear Sky Madison, hopes Madison County isn’t the next home for a wood pelleting biomass facility, he said Clear Sky Madison is willing to work with county government to reach a fair resolution.

“Biomass trailers that can cleanly burn wood residue and waste and turn it into usable synthetic diesel … this technology would be a win for the environment, economy and jobs in Madison County,” said said Tibbetts. “These big outside companies are just going to ruin us if we let them in.”

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