Fairfield wood mill off the table

Wood pellet mills grind up trees and limbs to make small chips that can be burned in biomass energy plants
Wood pellet mills grind up trees and limbs to make small chips that can be burned in biomass energy plants

An international energy corporation’s plan to build a wood pellet mill in Fairfield County suffered what might be a final blow to the fading project after months of opposition from area neighbors.

A South Carolina business group bought the land where Abengoa Inc. had sought to locate the pellet mill, according to a local property owner involved in the deal and Fairfield County real estate records. Those following the Abengoa proposal said the land sale likely stops any chance the project will be built in the White Oak community between Columbia and Charlotte.

Tom Patrick, an opponent who is among those who helped buy the land, said the new ownership group may sell the property near White Oak for another industrial use, but a pellet mill was not the right type of business for the area. Neighbors had cited truck traffic, noise and pollution as reasons the 70-job mill should not locate in their community.

“Abengoa may or may not have worked this out,’’ Patrick said. “At least now, we control the site and we can have some sort of influence on what goes there.’’

Patrick, who said he lives near the site, declined to disclose the sales price, the acreage or who else was involved in the transaction. County records provided to The State newspaper show that a company called KWOB LLC acquired the land from a local family last week for $480,000. The main site Abengoa at one time sought to purchase was on about 15 acres near U.S. 321.

Abengoa, a Spanish company that also provides solar and other energy services, did not respond to questions from The State about the transaction or the company’s future plans in South Carolina. The company was seeking to establish the pellet mill under a subsidiary known as AEC Pellet 1 USA.

Last week’s land transaction follows signals late last year by Abengoa that it would not open the plant as proposed. Fairfield County officials said the energy giant indicated that it would not be pursuing the project because of recent financial difficulties.

Neighbors who live near the proposed site said they’re glad the project won’t be completed because it would have disrupted the White Oak area.

“We need employment and we need industry, but this was just one of the worst locations,’’ said nearby resident Robert Davis, a former Fairfield County Councilman. “It was right in a residential area. It was just not suited for the surroundings.’’

The company’s proposed pellet mill would have released tons of soot and greenhouse gases each year, records show. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control had issued air permits needed to open the site.

“I don’t believe we’re going to see it’’ built, said Emily Zucchino, with the Dogwood Alliance, an environmental group that works to protect forests.

Environmental groups say pellet mills could cause the loss of southern forests. Pellet mills grind trees into small chips that are sent to Europe to burn in biomass energy plants. Environmentalists want sharp controls on the number of pellet mills, if they are built at all.

Pellet operations have been discussed in the Lowcountry and Piedmont of South Carolina. Zucchino said efforts are likely to continue to establish other pellet plants in South Carolina.

““I don’t think we are out of the woods at all,’’ Zucchino said.