Last Thursday, Nov. 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it is providing loan guarantees to a series of projects to convert biomass to energy through USDA’s Rural Energy for America program (REAP). The announcement was made during an event in Halifax, Va., to mark USDA Rural Development’s participation in construction of a biomass plant to be operated by the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative.
But the story has a local angle: One of the award recipients, NC-CHP Owner I, LLC of Asheville, N.C. — a partnership led by Asheville Vice-Mayor Brownie Newman — received a $5 million loan guarantee for installing a combined heat and power system serving a poultry producer in Montgomery County. The loan funding is provided through the Self-Help Credit Union.
The heat and power system will generate thermal energy using a boiler system powered by wood chips, and it will also generate 5.25 million kWh of electricity per year. Newman tells Xpress that a combined heat and power system avoids the problems of using centralized coal-burning power plants, which typically lose as much as 70% of their useable energy as heat. And while the project’s boiler system could use chips from any source, including whole trees, Newman says its his intention that the system be powered by chips derived from wood waste, perhaps from used shipping pallets or wood products discarded from construction or other sources.
“Biofuels can play an important role in meeting society’s energy needs,” Newman tells Xpress. “It’s a cleaner way to use wood waste and doesn’t have to use whole trees harvested from the region’s forest lands,” he adds. Newman is also vice president and director of financed projects at FLS Energy, the Asheville-based solar energy company whose mission is “to make solar mainstream.”
Newman explains that FLS Energy spun off NC-CHP Owner I, LLC for this particular project and to compete for the USDA award.
Last week’s announcement concludes 2011 biomass project funding assistance for a total of 52 projects nationwide with just over $31 million in grant and loan note guarantees through the Rural Energy for America Program. This support helped to leverage a total of $154.5 million of biomass project development in 26 states which will help produce clean, renewable heat and power for farms and small businesses in rural America.
FLS Energy was ranked No. 46 in Inc. magazine’s 2011 “Inc. 500,” which ranks the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. FLS Energy is the highest ranking company in the state of North Carolina, and the fifth among 15 energy companies included in this year’s list. FLS Energy was ranked in the top 50 in the nation because of its three-year revenue growth of more 4,300 percent. The company was founded in 2006 by three entrepreneurial environmentalists and has grown to more than 80 employees located across the Southeast.