Fibrowatt responds to pollution charges

First Posted: 5/24/2009

A war of words is heating up between a company proposing to build a plant in Surry County and an organization that believes it would be a major air polluter.
Earlier this month, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League released a report charging that the Fibrowatt power plant envisioned near Elkin could release pollutants up to six miles from the facility.
The chicken manure that the company plans to incinerate in order to produce electricity would emit toxic substances threatening both public health and air quality, according to computer modeling analysis from the league, an environmental watchdog organization.
But last week, Fibrowatt released a report of its own that calls the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League analysis misleading and inaccurate.
It charges that an air modeling report from the environmental group raising questions about Fibrowatts emissions is in some cases just plain wrong. The league used computer calculations of ground-level emissions based on data from an existing Fibrowatt plant in Minnesota as the foundation for its study in estimating air-quality impacts and drawing conclusions.
In analyzing emissions figures from that facility, the league claims the Surry plant would exceed allowable state limits for chromium.
Based on the errors in this report, it is apparent (the league) doesnt have the expertise to perform such an analysis, claims the rebuttal report from Fibrowatt. The (league) report is not accurate or credible, as it relies on faulty assumptions, omits key information and distorts the facts.
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, according to Fibrowatt, based its evaluation on a simple air-dispersion model from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fibrowatt calls this a short-term screening model that does not fully evaluate impacts of its plants or determines if the company meets North Carolina regulatory standards.
The environmental groups report says its computer modeling shows pollutants leaving the smoke stack would increase problems at ground level as various poisons move downwind. It alleges that areas around the plant would be contaminated with such chemicals as arsenic, chromium and mercury.
In humans, those substances can cause cancer as well as damage vital organs and blood cells.
But Fibrowatt charges that since worst-case modeling the league used seems to focus on ground-level emissions and not those from a stack, it is irrelevant.
The companys response also says the modeling does not rely on actual metals emissions from the Minnesota facility, but conservative estimates made years ago when Fibrowatt was permitting that plant.
Actual testing conducted for metals emissions at the Minnesota plant shows that emissions are 10 to 95 times lower than the levels used in the (environmental organizations) analysis, Fibrowatt says. Using this actual testing data would show that each of the metals emissions including arsenic and chromium are more than 100 times below the applicable North Carolina standard.
The companys report further points out that the leagues analysis is based on a 55-megawatt plant, but the smaller 40-megawatt plant envisioned near Elkin would produce significantly less emissions and impacts.
Perhaps these mistakes are a result of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense Leagues inexperience in performing complex air-dispersion modeling and analysis, Fibrowatts rebuttal states. Or maybe (it) manipulated the results to justify its opposition to Fibrowatt. Either way, the portrayal of Fibrowatts air-quality impacts is simply wrong.
Lou Zeller, an official of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League who authored the report, could not be reached for comment Sunday.
However, David Mickey, another official of the organization who lives in Winston-Salem, said Sunday that the counter-report released by Fibrowatt does not alter his groups position or the findings of its analysis.
We stand by that report, Mickey said. Its based on their plant and their own numbers.
The league spokesman said the public should keep in mind that the way permits get issued for facilities is through such computer modeling. We didnt make it up, Mickey said.
He indicated that the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League likely would be issuing a more extensive report in light of Fibrowatts charges.
Fibrowatt also claims that it has offered to meet with league officials to discuss how their conclusions are unsupported by the facts. Not only have they not responded, but company representatives were not allowed to speak at two meetings held by the environmental organization earlier this month, according to Fibrowatt.
Thats really not quite accurate, Mickey said Sunday in responding to those charges. I dont think weve actually been in a situation where weve felt comfortable sitting down with the company. Thats kind of a tactic employed by companies.
As for the charge that Fibrowatt representatives werent allowed to speak at the recent meetings, Mickey said those sessions actually were held for the benefit of the public. However, Fibrowatt sent four representatives to them, which the league official believes served to dominate the meetings by accident or intent.
Fibrowatt, meanwhile, says it is willing to be judged on the facts by fair-minded people. The company is confident its emissions will meet the air-quality standards of the state, which it says wont issue a permit until it is completely satisfied Fibrowatt will adhere to those strict rules.
When we submit our evidence to the state, we invite (the league) to do the same, the Fibrowatt report says. Let the state judge who is right.
The plans for Fibrowatts Surry plant coincide with a recent requirement that power companies begin using renewable-energy sources for a portion of their electrical output to consumers, specifically chicken litter.
A Fibrowatt official has said its plant would remove polluting chemicals from the waste.
Earlier this year, the Surry Board of Commissioners rezoned a 117-acre site near the Yadkin River to accommodate the $140 million facility, which is expected to create about 80 jobs.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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