Oglethorpe purchases acreage for biomass plant

By Lisa Gibson
Oglethorpe Power Corp. recently purchased a 355-acre site in Warren County, Ga., for a 100-megawatt biomass electric generating plant. The site is one of five considered last fall as potential sites for two, possibly three, facilities, according to the company.

Each plant will use about 1 million tons of woody biomass-wood from sawmills, forest residue, whole tree chips and chopped pulpwood-per year, according to Greg Jones, Oglethorpe director of public relations. Studies determined that nearby forests will be able to provide the necessary biomass supply. "More is already being grown than harvested," he said. "The bottom line is there's adequate supply."

Each biomass facility will require a capital investment of $400 million to $500 million, according to the company, which will try to get funding from the rural utilities service, Jones said. The sites must undergo an independent environmental review and evaluation, required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The process will include public meetings at the potential sites. The review at the Warren County site, and one being considered in Appling County, will occur in the next 18 to 24 months, during which Oglethorpe will work on acquiring the necessary environmental permits.

Each plant will provide about 40 permanent jobs, plus several hundred workers in the construction process, according to the company. In addition, about 400 to 500 more jobs per plant could be generated to gather and transport the biomass.

Construction on the first plant is expected to begin in 2011 and it should be commercially operational by the summer of 2014, according to the company. The second plant will be operational by 2015 and if a third is built, it also will be operational at that time.

The second plant might be in Appling County and Oglethorpe has a third option in Echols County, along with two alternative sites in Washington County, according to Oglethorpe, although no other sites have been purchased yet.