Pellet plant breaks ground in Va., brings economic growth

By Luke Geiver | July 30, 2012

A new 500,000 ton-per-year pellet production facility in Southampton County, Va. represents the biggest economic development in the county over the past 20 years, according to Michael Johnson, Southampton County administrator. The pellet production facility will be owned and operated by Maryland-based Enviva LP, and following the recent groundbreaking held at the 139-acre site Enviva purchased for $1.5 million, the facility will be operational by the end of 2013.

Enviva will employ traditional wood processing and pelletizing equipment at the new facility, according to Elizabeth Woodworth, director of marketing and communications. Most of the woody biomass will be sourced within a 50-75 mile radius of the facility, and on average, roughly 200 trucks will enter or leave the facility per day when the plant is operating at full capacity. According to Woodworth, the company plans to export most of the pellets produced at the Southampton facility to Europe. The cost of the Southampton facility will total roughly $90 million, generating over $7 million for the county and more than 70 permanent jobs with an average salary of nearly $40,000 per year.

The company plans to utilize the same development approach taken at another pellet production facility owned and operated by Enviva in Northampton, N.C., Woodworth said. “With this ‘build and copy’ approach,” she said, “we will be able to capture the wisdom, expertise and any lessons learned during the Northampton construction process and utilize that at Southampton.”

The Southampton facility represents the third wholly-owned plant for Enviva in the Mid-Atlantic region. In addition to another facility operated through a joint venture with Biomass Energy, Enviva passes all pellets produced in the region through Enviva’s Chesapeake pellet terminal on the Elizabeth River. When the Southampton facility comes online, Woodworth said, more than a third of the company’s worldwide production will come out of Virginia. “The mid-Atlantic region has an incredibly robust, sustainable wood basket which will ensure stable production for years to come,” Woodworth said.