By Jody Steinberg

“Not in my backyard,” was the first response business partners Raine Cotton and Mark Morgan of Southeast Renewable Energy heard loud and clear at two community information meetings held on their plans to build a biomass energy production facility on Briarwood Road.

The Renewable Energy Facility, planned at 1800 Briarwood near Northeast Plaza, would convert forestry materials (tree cuttings and mulch) to steam energy through a high-heat “gasification” technology, according to Cotton. The meetings were held Nov. 18, prior to the company’s plans to file a zoning application with DeKalb County.

Once operational, the $22 million facility would produce 7.25 megawatts of “green” energy, which Georgia Power would purchase under its renewable energy program.

To maintain operations, the processor would require 100,000 tons of fuel per year, or the equivalent of 10 tractor-trailer loads of raw materials per day, all of which would have to be ground down to two-inch chips before fed into the processor.

The 75-foot tall plant would release up to 10 tons of carbon monoxide and noxious monoxide per year, five tons of particulate matter and several tons of non-toxic organic ash per day, which will have to be trucked out regularly. Keeping the turbine cooled will consume 250 gallons of clean water per minute from the county water supply, which will not be returned to the sewage system. According to Cotton, the carbon monoxide produced is considered “carbon neutral” because the organic matter would produce the same amount of CO2 over time if it were biodegrading elsewhere. He assured residents that they will not see smoke or smell any odor near the plant, because of the clean scrubbing technology they plan to use.

“If we smoke, they’ll shut us down,’ Cotton said, referring to regulators.

Cotton welcomed questions from the residents, but ended up on the hot seat when addressing concerns about traffic, noise, smoke, odor, non-visible pollution, waste and disposal. He committed to getting better answers before his proposal goes before the Community Council on Dec. 21.

“It’s disingenuous to say that … CO and Nox is going to go away,” said Brookhaven resident Mike Schwartz, who questioned Cotton’s assertion that it will be easy to find a market for the ash residue, adding that residents are going to want more concrete answers to the traffic and disposal plans before they can weigh in on the zoning application. Residents also expressed concern that if the plant gets a “heavy industry” designation, it could open doors to other heavy industry businesses to locate in the area.

While the facility would be on a 19-acre site, the actual biomass producer and fuel storage area will occupy little more than an acre, explained Cotton. The pre-filing meetings were the firsts in a series of applications and hearings before county officials could approve it. After they appear before the Council in December, SRE’s application will be considered – with input from the Council – by the county Planning Committee and Board of Commissioners in January.

If approved, it will take about 15 months before the facility is built and operable.