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Active Energy abandons plans for biomass plant in Lumberton

sample wood pellets
Courtesy of Enviva
Active Energy's facility was going to produce and export wood pellets for other countries to burn for energy. These sample wood pellets were manufactured by Enviva, a company that operates four biomass plants in North Carolina.

A British energy company is not moving forward with plans to build a controversial wood pellet facility in Robeson County.

The announcement on Thursday from Active Energy Group comes after years of protest against the facility. Local residents and environmental groups said the plant was going to bring more air and water pollution to the area.

In a prepared statement, Lumber Riverkeeper Jefferson Currie II said he welcomes the news.

“I am glad that the concerns of the local community have been heard,” said Currie, who is also a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. “We have a long way to go to protect the Lumber River from industrial pollution, but the end of plans for a pellet mill in Lumberton is one less thing to worry about.”

Active Energy instead plans to sell the site in Lumberton for $4.65 million to commercial real estate firm Phoenix Investors LLC, according to a company press release. It's unclear what Phoenix Investors will do with the facility. Active Energy will use proceeds from the sale to develop a similar biomass plant in Maine.

“We appreciate the support we have received from the community and its leaders in Lumberton and Robeson County,” said Michael Rowan, CEO of Active Energy Group. “We ... look forward to future collaboration with the state.”

The biomass plant would have produced and exported wood pellets to Europe and Asia to burn for energy. The Robesonian reports the facility used to be a manufacturing plant for Alamac American Knits.

Companies like Active Energy and Enviva, the world's largest producer of industrial wood pellets, argue biomass is a clean and renewable form of energy because trees will grow back. Enviva operates four biomass facilities in North Carolina, including one in rural Sampson County.

Critics say burning wood pellets emits more carbon than coal, contributes to climate change and clear cuts forests.

Heather Hillaker, a staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, is involved in ongoing litigation against Active Energy over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the Lumberton facility.

"Although Active Energy's announcement and sale of the property does not resolve these current and ongoing legal issues... we look forward to working with the new owners to address... the existing contamination at the site," Hillaker said. "We will continue to work ... on efforts to address these issues, either with Active Energy in the coming months, or by speaking with the new owners once the sale has been finalized."

Active Energy's sale of the Lumberton site is subject to a 75-day due diligence and closing period. Closing of the transaction is expected in June.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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