Dear Editor: Georgia Renewable Power and Veolia Energy Operating Services are very proud to be working in Madison and Franklin counties to provide innovative, sustainable biomass energy solutions that protect local natural resources today and into the future. Our team has been diligently working to improve the reliability of the facilities and address other concerns raised by those who live near our plants and have questions about our operations. It is well established that biomass operations such as the facilities in Madison and Franklin counties provide a safe, environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional energy sources, which is why the federal government has authorized these types of plants. Yet we understand that biomass technology is relatively new, and people want to know if they might be impacting their quality of life.

First and most important, we want to assure everyone concerned that the plants are operating well within environmental guidelines. The plants are strictly and rigidly monitored and regulated to make sure they do not contribute to air or ground contamination; in fact, they are designed to reduce these kinds of impacts compared to traditional energy sources.

We’d like to take up some of the specific concerns we have heard, and give an update on what we are doing about them:

•Regarding concerns about noise at the Madison plant, we recognize that as we have started the plants up over the past couple of months, there have been noise issues that we are now working to rectify. The facility began commercial operations on Dec. 14 and had a challenging start-up period. As a result, we are installing noise suppressors on the start-up valves at the plant as well as some of the vents and connection lines, which will greatly reduce the noise associated with start-up. We have also engaged with an independent noise auditor to conduct an analysis of the plant to identify areas where we can further limit the sound coming from our facility during normal operations.

•We are concerned about misperceptions about the railroad crossties that we collect and burn at the plants. Instead of contributing to air or ground contamination, our ability to burn crossties at extremely high temperatures (1800 degrees Fahrenheit on average) allows us to eliminate creosote and other contaminants in the wood, capturing any remaining chemicals before they are released. The alternative to burning the crossties would be to dispose of them in landfills or leave them in stacked piles on the ground, which poses a much greater risk to the environment because of the potential for contaminants to leach into the ground. Due to improvements in power plant technology, and through multiple environmental impact studies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that biomass is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of the roughly four million crossties that are discarded every year in the United States. GRP is one of multiple facilities across the country that use crossties as a portion of their fuel source. The crossties we burn at the plants constitute a small portion of the material we process — about 20 percent — yet we are committed to this source of fuel because of the efficiency in which they burn and the environmental benefits of burning them. All of the crossties that come into the facility are not consumed by the plant. GRP’s supplier (National Salvage) sorts all of the crossties that arrive. Some of the crossties are sent out for reuse in the rail system, others are graded for landscape ties and sent to big box retail hardware stores and the most degraded ones (which are the oldest and least full of creosote) are consumed by the facility. At the same time, to help minimize any risks to the community, we are placing our crosstie operations within a contained shelter to make sure dust and debris from our collection process does not get blown onto neighboring properties. We are also designing and building a new conveyor belt to carry processed crossties directly to the boiler, which means the crossties will arrive, be stored and processed indoors, and be sent directly to the furnace--removing any contact with outside air or water.

•We are proud of our collaborative relationship with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and other regulators, who routinely inspect our operations to make sure they are in compliance with environmental standards. The EPD has made over 30 visits to our facilities to ensure we are following all applicable laws and regulations. Our plants use the most advanced air quality monitoring technology and software to make sure that we maintain compliance. The air emissions process uses a CEMS system which continuously monitors the air emissions of the facility 24/7. We understand there have been concerns raised about the material being released from the plant, but the plumes you may see coming from the cooling tower, blowdown vent and even the large stack are nothing more than condensation or steam. When there is a visual plume, it does not always mean it is harmful or carries any contamination. There have been a couple of occasions during the start-up when darker smoke containing wood soot has been released, but that will not continue as it was directly related to commissioning, start-up and plant tuning.

•Regarding concerns about contaminated water runoff, we sample the water stream coming from our plants every day, and they have always been in compliance. These records are kept at the facility and reviewed by the Georgia EPD when requested.

We believe the concerns being raised are understandable and are due in large part to unfamiliarity about how the plants operate and the technologies we use to prevent negative impacts on the surrounding environment. To make sure everyone feels their concerns are being heard, we plan to engage in greater community outreach efforts to explain the technology in greater detail and address questions and concerns that people may have, including tours of the plant and other opportunities for people to learn about our operations first-hand.

We are proud to be part of the community in Madison and Franklin counties, and take very seriously our role as a responsible provider of reliable, environmentally sustainable energy and power.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at any time with questions or comments at info@georgiarenewablepower.com to schedule a plant tour or reach out for general information.

Steve Dailey

President and Chief Operating Officer

Georgia Renewable Power

The facts behind biomass energy

•What is it? Biomass is material derived from plants that use sunlight to grow. This includes plant and animal material such as wood from the forest; material left over from agricultural and forestry processes; and organic industrial, human and animal wastes.

•Where does it come from? Biomass comes from a variety of sources, including: agricultural crops and residues; sewage; municipal solid waste; animal residues; industrial residues; and forestry crops and residues.

•What does GRP do with it? Biomass can be transferred into energy through conventional combustion, which is how it is generated at the GRP facilities, or conversion to syngas. Biomass is considered a renewable energy source because its inherent energy comes from the sun and because it can regrow in a relatively short time.

•Important benefits: Biomass energy helps to REDUCE greenhouse gas emissions by reducing dependency on fossil fuels, and by preventing carbon dioxide and methane emissions from decaying biomass. Methane, in fact, is 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.

Since nothing offsets the CO2 that fossil fuel burning produces, replacing fossil fuels with biomass results in reduced carbon emissions, especially when burned in a modern, highly efficient power plant. In fact, the more efficient the plant, the less material it takes to produce energy. The Georgia biomass facilities are designed to be the most efficient in the world.

•How can biomass energy be considered carbon-neutral? Whether trees are burned or whether they decompose naturally, they release the same amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If trees harvested as biomass are replaced with new tree plantings as fast as the wood is burned, new trees take up the carbon produced by combustion and no extra carbon is added to the atmospheric balance sheet.

•The benefits of burning old railroad ties: The conversion of recycling old treated wood such as creosote-treated railroad ties into biomass fuel is a far more sustainable alternative than disposing of them in landfills. Extensive research shows that burning creosote-treated railroad ties in an efficient biomass plant has less impact on air emissions than burning untreated wood. Modern plants are designed to incinerate or capture all chemicals or trace metals that may be in the wood when it is burned.

(3) comments

Virginia Moss

I have been looking forward to what GRP has to say about what they are doing and now they finally have offered something. I have read it with interest and with as open a mind as I can muster after so much controversy. I want to believe that we have a good neighbor in our midst, a needed neighbor.

I learned here that GRP is now doing some things that they should have known were issues and didn’t until people complained. Why was there a “challenging start-up period”? Do they not know what they are doing? If they had communicated to the public in detail about how their start-up would go, what to expect and that it would last X period of time, neighbors may have not liked it, but might have tolerated it believing that all that misery and toxicity would not be ongoing. They didn’t communicate. Trust lost.

I learned that there is another company, National Salvage, operating at the plant, using GRP’s acreage to sort railroad ties out in the open, exposed to the weather, in enormous numbers. So, there are two operations going on at the GRP plant, not one. Few of us, if any, were aware of this until now. A little more trust lost.

I learned that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has made 30 visits to the plant, but this was after citizen alarm notified them to check out GRP which they did and found many violations, forcing GRP to make changes which I assume they would not have made. Trust lost.

I learned that plant tours are offered; I’ve heard that management personnel are very friendly people. Of course they are. Tours are nothing but public relations opportunities where they can attempt to convince people that they are all good guys. Are they? I’m sure they all want to keep their jobs so they do their jobs very well. No Trust gained.

“Modern plants are designed to incinerate or capture all chemicals or trace metals that may be in the wood when it is burned.” They may be designed to do so, but do they? And does GRP’s plant do this? This is the part that I can’t accept. Why? Trust is lost.

Kim Long

I would love to see any of these studies on emissions and reports showing there is no heavy metals in the ash or in the smoke emissions. I believe Madison Clean Amir Coalition has asked repeatedly and after getting the EPD involved as reports were made about the soot in the air and black debris in our streams and watershed we have yet to see these reports and emission tests confirming the cleanly emissions. Please produce these results. We do not wish to be test cases for a lawsuit in the future regarding our declining health later after your business is gone and we are left with the violations litter our air, soil, and water. Prove the cleanliness. That’s all we have asked for since the beginning.

Thank you for moving the grinding up of railroad ties inside, as that was alarming in the least to witness them blowing in the wind over surround families and farms.

James Cline

Biomass does NOT include oil/gas/coal derivatives which is what creosote is. As for wood dust collection and water run off, your procedures are beyond antiquated. I worked for both Georgia-Pacific and Louisiana-Pacific and dust collection systems exist in every stage of cutting wood. You're not doing this. You would have to be insane to think the volume of crossties piled, chipped and rained upon isn't going into the water. We have no duty to the railroad corporations to provide them a cheap place to dump crossties. Dailey's letter is nothing but propaganda. Industry lobbyist is why the law changed. We aren't going to be good neighbors until the crossties are gone.

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