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County vote could pave the way for new Drax pellet plant in S.C.

By Erin Voegele | June 20, 2014

Drax Biomass, a wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Drax Group plc, may elect to develop a new pellet plant in Abbeville County, South Carolina. The county recently passed an ordinance that would allow the company an option to purchase a 119 acre tract of land.

According to information released by the county, the proposed pellet manufacturing plant would be located approximately three miles from Calhoun Falls, a town on the western boarder of South Carolina roughly 60 miles northwest of Augusta, Georgia. “The project would be revitalizing to an area hit hard with textile plant closures in the past,” said the county in a press release. “The property is boarded by a four lane highway that complements its rail access. The CSX rail line provides efficient shipping of finished pellets that would be transported to either the Port of Savannah or the Port of Charleston giving this location a strategic advantage.”

In February, Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax, indicated her company was pursuing options to develop up to 2 million tons of additional pellet capacity, primarily in the U.S. The announcement was made during an investor call to discuss the company’s 2013 financial results. “The objective here is to secure high quality pellets, optimize pellet plant efficiency, which…brings down fuel costs, and actively manage fiber inputs, which optimizes the physical and chemical characteristics of the biomass fuel,” said Tony Quinlan, finance director of Drax, during that call. “Our focus remains on North America, where we see the potential for attractive, double-digit returns, but we are also looking at the opportunity for expanding our U.K. pellet production, which can deliver some our most cost-effective biomass fuel.” 

In a statement provided to Biomass Magazine, Melanie Wedgbury, head of external communications for Drax, noted that Drax is in the progress of executing the U.S. pellet expansion plans announced by Thompson in February. “That work is underway and as a result we are beginning to secure sties for potential development and investment consideration,” Wedgbury said. “This is the start of a development process, which ultimately leads to a final investment decision being taken on whether or not to proceed with the full development. At this time, it is too early for us to give more specific details.”

In addition to the South Carolina project, Drax is also proposing to develop a separate pellet plant in Mississippi. In May, Biomass Magazine reported that documents filed with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality indicate a unit of Drax is planning to build a pellet plant near Magnolia, Mississippi. The project, proposed under the title Pike BioEnergy LLC, would be located on a 103-acre site.