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Biomass still plans huge plant

SOUTH POINT - Biomass Energy LLC officials still hope to build the nations biggest and best wood-fired power plant.

If approved by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, new proposals would increase the cost of the project to between $200 and $300 million and double the number of jobs created to a total of 100.

Last year, the Nicholasville, Ky.-based company announced its plans to renovate the former South Point Ethanol facility into an operating electricity plant.

Modifications to the plan now require the company to again host an another EPA public hearing as part of the requirements for a new draft air permit to allow Biomass to burn wood waste to generate the power. But those same changes from 2004 have greatly increased the value of the project, said Mark Harris, CEO of Biomass, a company that has had an up and down relationship with the community and local leaders.

Feeling that the company has gotten a bad rap, Harris said Biomass intends to be a good corporate citizen and invest into Lawrence County.

"You don't dedicate $250 or $300 million to a project without it being a very positive impact on the community," Harris said. "This will be a project the community and the whole nation can be proud of.

"It will be the premier wood-power plant in North America. It will be the biggest and cleanest and a facility embraced by those concerned about the environment."

The plant would generate about 200 megawatts of electricity - enough to supply 250,000 households - selling electricity to utility investors in Ohio, Pennsylvania and possibly tenants within The Point industrial park.

As part of the renovation, Biomass would modify its seven coal and oil fired boilers to burn 100 percent wood waste - mostly sawdust and small wood chips from

across the Tri-State.

If the permit process goes well, construction is projected to begin before the end of the year and be completed in 24 months.

The plant will be powered up and rolling by late 2007. The project will create as many as 100 permanent jobs, 400 ancillary jobs across the Tri-State and 250 to 400 construction jobs during construction.

"They will all be high-paying jobs," Harris said, though he said it was too soon to nail down an exact amount. "They will certainly be competing to the grade of the highest industrial standard rates in that area."

Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, which oversee Biomass' neighbor - The Point industrial Park, said he hopes to see the project move towards reality.

"We want to be as helpful as appropriate. We do see potential for quite a number of jobs and investment into the community," he said. "We are very hopeful that this can work out."

The recently adopted federal energy bill may help pave the way for the project, Dingus said. The plan allows for federal tax credits for "green energy" sources.

Tax credits are a common way to make new energy producing methods more financially feasible while they are being developed, Dingus said, adding that without similar tax credits South Point Ethanol would not have been able to operate.

The Ohio EPA public hearing to discuss the draft air permit will be at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at the South Point Community Center, 404 Second St.

Written comments can be sent through Aug. 26 to Portsmouth Local Air Agency, Attn: Anne Chamberlin, 605 Washington St., Portsmouth, OH 45662.

Biomass ran into some problems in 2003 ago when it tried to burn surplus tobacco. The Ohio EPA halted those plans and Biomass eventually removed all of the tobacco.

The company has also been criticized for fires on the property and for not paying its taxes in a timely manner.