The loss of the International Paper plant near Franklin turned out to be Greensville County’s gain. The plant’s closing, announced in late October, was critical to Wood Fuel Developers’ decision to put a wood-pellet manufacturing facility in Virginia rather than Georgia.
The startup renewable fuels company, an affiliate of Chester-based Industrial TurnAround Corp., will invest $18.7 million to build a plant on a 26-acre site in Greensville. Steve Gordon, Wood Fuel Developers president, says that suppliers that sold pulp to the IP mill are now free to provide wood and fiber products used in wood-pellet production.
Wood Fuel Developers initially had considered buying an existing plant in Georgia and selling wood pellets in international markets. But company officials turned their attention to domestic markets when they realized the cost and supply of wood pellets were holding back demand for wood-pellet stoves. Wood pellets largely have been produced in British Columbia. “We strongly feel that if there’s a good, consistent, reliable supply of pellets, then not only residential, but commercial markets will start growing,” Gordon says.
The company believes that Virginia is ideal for serving markets in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions where wood-pellet stoves increasingly are sought as alternatives to furnaces run on heating oil or electricity. “Virginia just made sense as a location for our operations because of its transportation infrastructure,” Gordon says. “Our plant is just 60 miles from the Virginia port, so we can have rail onsite and we can also get goods to port quickly and easily.”
He adds that Wood Fuel Developers can ship to Northern states for about $40 a ton, less than half of the cost that British Columbia plants encounter in shipping to the same locations.
Wood Fuel Developers expects to break ground on the new plant in late April and begin production by December. It will hire 39 employees during the next 36 months. Gordon expects the plant ultimately to produce up to 300,000 tons of wood pellets a year.
The company will receive $3.65 million in incentives and site improvements from local, state and federal agencies. A dozen businesses have announced plans to locate or expand in the Emporia-Greensville area in less than three years.
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