PEMBROKE — A Lumberton businessman’s proposal to establish a facility at COMtech park where waste can be converted into a variety of energy sources, including electricity and liquid fuels, met strong opposition this week from the park’s board of directors.
“It just doesn’t fit in with the goals of what new industries are looking for in the park,” said Ronnie Hunt, the board’s chairman. “I don’t think you can find anyone who would want this kind of business within a half mile of where they are located.”
Rob Redfearn, president of TerraStar Energy, wants to put a facility on about 10 acres of COMtech property where waste, including regular household garbage, commercial waste and hog and chicken manure, can be converted into biogas and liquid fuels, such as bio-diesel and gasoline.
“This would save on the amount of waste going into the county landfill (in St.Pauls), save on disposal costs, and convert this waste to electricity to be sold to either Progress Energy or the Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation,” Redfearn said.
Redfearn told The Robesonian on Friday that he proposed building a facility at COMtech capable of generating up to 3 megawatts of electricity. He said that is enough energy to supply power to up to 1,000 or more homes.
“In my thinking, this is at the cutting edge of technology,”Redfearn said. “This would have been a great thing for COMtech.”
Redfearn said that the technology he would have brought to the industrial park is new in the United States, but has been for years available in Europe and Asia. Since forming TerraStar three years ago, Redfearn said he has formed partnerships across the United States and in other countries.
“I’m doing this all over, with most plants being in Asia and Tennessee,” he said.
Redfearn said that he became interested in the process of converting waste into energy when he looked around North Carolina and saw the number of hog and chicken farmers across the state that had to find ways to get rid of hog and chicken manure.
“We can take all of this waste and convert it into energy,” he said.
Redfearn said that he believes about 100 of these plants could be established throughout Robeson and adjoining counties.
“All you need is to guarantee a supply of waste and then enter into contracts with waste and power suppliers,” he said.
Ryan Nance, COMtech’s executive director, said Redfearn’s proposal to COMtech included a $3 million to $5 million investment and the creation of about 10 permanent jobs. He added that board members were concerned that the project would not be compatible with other businesses in the park and that odor would be a significant problem.
Hunt said that he is not just concerned about the possibility of odor, but is concerned with the potential of explosions and fires resulting from stored combustible gases such as methane.
‘This does not fit well with the daycare and park that’s already located at COMtech,” he said.
According to Nance, board members at Wednesday’s meeting suggested that Redfearn work with Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic developer, to locate a site within the county that’s more compatible for his business.
Cummings said Friday that he is willing to work with Redfearn to find a suitable site for his project.
“I’m willing to talk and work with him,” said Cummings. “This kind of project needs to be isolated with infrastructure already in place. There also needs to be three-phase current available and a substation close by.”