Thursday, October 8, 2009

Southside could lead bioenergy future

A. Things don't grow in the shadow of a uranium mine.

B. Things don't live in the shadow of a uranium mine.

Keeping these things in mind, how can Southside become a leader in bio-energy if Coles Hill is mined?

And, Mr. VanDerHyde, perhaps you can tell us how close beef cattle and/or milk cows be kept to a uranium mine before the animals and their milk become poisonous to humans? Radon will permeate the grazing fields, water, and the animals themselves.

We'd like to see Southside become a bio-energy leader as long as that precludes mining Coles Hill.

With Virginia and the country on the cusp of a bioenergy future, Southern Virginia has the opportunity to lead the way, industry experts say.

“Southern Virginia has everything to offer,” said Ken Moss of Piedmont BioProducts in Gretna. “We have location to population centers north and south. We’ve got the agricultural heritage of the people and we’ve got the political wheel to support the development of bioenergy.”

Moss and 175 people attended the “Southern Virginia Bioenergy: Making Innovation Work” conference at the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research in Danville on Tuesday.

The conference brought area stakeholders together to focus on Virginia’s renewable energy agenda. Entrepreneurs shared bioenergy projects and business models to educate and garner interest and support for a regional bioenergy future.

Charles R. Hawkins, chair of the Virginia Tobacco Commission, started the morning in a public forum on the viability of such an industry in Southside. Moss and Kimble Reynolds Jr., regional director of the Martinsville office of Rep. Tom Perriello, D-5th District, also participated in the panel.

“This is an opportunity for us to replace some of the income that tobacco used to produce,” Hawkins said. “The main thing is everybody understanding the importance of it. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require some effort. It’s going to take years.”

Pittsylvania County already has a bioenergy history with Dominion’s Pittsylvania Power Station in Hurt, fuel procurement manager Roy Byrd said. The 80-megawatt power station has burned wood chips or biomass to produce electricity for the past 17 years.

The station uses “waste wood” and produces low levels of sulfur dioxide for an environmentally friendly operation. As one of the largest biomass stations on the East Coast, producing enough power for more than 20,000 houses, it serves as part of Dominion’s commitment to reaching the Virginia target of getting 12 percent of energy from renewable generation by 2022.

Dean Price of Red Birch Energy in Martinsville reinforced the idea that the energy supply needs to be decentralized, with small-scale refineries serving the communities that supply them with feedstock.

Price said such a system could be replicated anywhere, including Danville.

“This is not something we need to debate. We’ve got to do something,” Price said. “What the president has before him is a very daunting task. He’s got to change our energy usage.”

Owners of VanDerHyde Dairy near Chatham thought more seriously about capitalizing on the release of cow manure’s methane gas when the recession hurt milk prices, co-owner Roy VanDerHyde said. Currently, manure stored in pits releases methane gas to the atmosphere.

“Now, we’re trying to do something productive with it,” VanDerHyde said. “Sustainability — that’s the name of our game of trying to stay in business.”

Using an anaerobic digester to separate solids and liquids in the manure for electricity generation could also be beneficial in that those liquids could be used for crop applications, he said.

VanDerHyde estimates the manure from more than 900 cows could produce power for 600 homes. That’s more than the number of houses in Chatham (554).

Additionally, the process would burn off pathogens and reduce pathogens in bedding, which would mean increased milk quality, he said.

“A lot of other dairies are watching to see how I make out with this,” VanDerHyde said.

Conference speakers and industry experts also agreed that “green” technology and bioenergy could provide incentive for young people to stay or come back to rural communities.

That’s why tree farmers and brothers Clark and Joe Graves, of Graves Family Forests in Halifax County, came to the conference. They already established conservation easements on their land to keep it undeveloped, but both wanted to know what options the next generation would have in an agricultural endeavor.

“We have to all be positive about it,” Clark said. “There’s not just one product or answer.”

Liam Leightley, executive director of the Institute, encouraged everyone interested in bioenergy to keep tabs on legislation.

“What we saw today was a significant amount of innovation. People who aren’t just sitting, but are actually doing,” Leightley said, ending the conference. “We have the potential here in Southern Virginia to lead.”

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