WHITE OAK — Fairfield County held a public hearing on a zoning change ordinance that would allow AEC Pellet 1 USA to set up a plant near the White Oak community. While the facility would create as many as 75 new jobs in the area, area residents voiced concerns over the many side effects it would bring.
Currently, there are two plants operating in South Carolina to produce wood pellets and another six have been proposed. These pellets are generally made from industrial waste following production of various items from lumber, but the proposed plant in Fairfield County would bring in fresh cut trees specifically for the purpose of creating pellets.
Wood pellets have become the latest trend in bioenergy in Europe and are beginning to gain popularity in the United States. They have been found to be an efficient source of heat and have a lower output of emissions than many other sources.
While the end product has proven beneficial, the process to create them can cause concerns both to the neighboring communities and further out in the county as well.
Emily Zucchino from Dogwood Alliance, an organization dedicated to protecting forests and communities from industrial logging, presented information from existing wood pellet factories on how they can effect communities. She pointed out that the wood pellet industry is a “transitional market,” and speculated that the market would dwindle within 10 years resulting in plant closures.
Zucchino also discussed the impact these facilities had on communities.
“In North Carolina, the existing and proposed facilities have promised to provide local jobs. Instead, residents tell me that the pellet facilities have not brought jobs for anyone in the community,” she said.
Another issue facing the pellet industry is that as it becomes more popular, the costs associated are quickly rising. This is due to the fact that the ability to acquire lumber is becoming more difficult as more facilities are built.
Possibly the largest group petitioning the council to stop the facility was the residents in the immediate area surrounding the plant. Several individuals spoke to the impact on land value, local wildlife and hunting, and especially to the ability to get to and from their homes.
The DHEC permit request submitted by AEC Pellet states that the production rate of the facility would be 530,000 tons each year with an hourly maximum rate of 71 tons. To put that into perspective, the county could reasonably expect as many as 20,000 additional trucks hauling lumber into the county with regular trains exporting the pellets.
The potential stress on an already strained network of roads in Fairfield County as well as throughout the state has many concerned. Several residents commented on the potential for delays in emergency response due to the loading of long trains.
Having been presented with a great deal of disparaging information on the wood pellet industry as well as negative feedback from every person who spoke, county council decided to delay the third reading of the ordinance pending a work session and analysis of the information brought by the public.
Reach James Inabinet at 803-635-4016.