The Whiteville Board of Aldermen heard an intriguing feasibility study for the town to enter the alternative energy business at its June 4 meeting, but, according to Mayor James Bellar, the consultants who presented the plan may be getting ahead of themselves in its implementaion.
Present at the meeting were Bellar, Vice Mayor Sidney Woods and aldermen Emily Rosson, Chandra Johnson, Charles Phillips, James Robertson and Tommy Turner, as well as a number of concerned citizens.
Also present were several representatives of Alternative Energy Solutions of Memphis, including principal partner Kyle Adkins, attorney/marketing specialist Michael Duggins, Sherry Bryant and others.
Duggins and Adkins presented an overview to the board of plans and procedures to produce natural gas from the sludge in Whiteville's wastewater treatment lagoons. Duggins, who described himself as a marketing person for the firm, said prior to the meeting that the firm was being backed by a professional athlete from Memphis, and expected to put about 15 people to work in Whiteville with its proposal for the town to convert garbage and waste materials into fuel. Duggins said prior to the meeting that the proposal could be entirely funded by grants, at no cost to the town.
Duggins said the city could save up to 50 percent on utility bills, and could even keep revenues from resold energy. He also discussed production of corn-based fuels.
Adkins went even further, and said that other forms of vegetable matter—such as kudzu—could be used to create alternative fuel.
Duggins and Adkins said they encouraged the city to form “Special Purpose Utility Districts” to manage the enterprise.
"Now we have a way to convert human waste and food waste into an alternative form of energy," Duggins said. Both Duggins and Adkins said grants could be used to fund the project.
Kyle Adkins, senior partner, directed the presentation and handled the bulk of the technical explanations of the process. Adkins' presentation took up nearly the entire meeting. Adkins primarily described methods of producing natural gas from wastewater treatment sludge, using Youtube videos and A/V presentations from other sources to demonstrate the process.
Adkins said this type of alternative energy creation is already being used in other countries, particularly in Europe, where the technology is 60 years ahead of the same applications in the U.S.
"This is the product of two years of working on this project for you guys," Adkins said.
Adkins said the company he originally worked with on a feasibility study for Whiteville—which Bellar later identified as Green Energy Solutions of Memphis--turned the project down because Whiteville is a rural community. Bellar said June 11 that the town had been consulting with Green Energy Solutions for about a year on the project.
Adkins focused the bulk of his approach to Whiteville on its two wastewater lagoons, one of which is almost full.
"It's about half being used," Adkins said.
Adkins described a “biogas plant” and “biomass production” process by which an “anaerobic digestor” could convert sewage into natural gas by heating the sewage with solar collectors. The process heats municipal wastewater to 95 degrees with solar-collected heat to create bacteria, which produce methane gas from the waste. The “biogas” can be produced from a combination of wastewater sludge, highly concentrated industrial effluent, source-separated household waste (garbage), food industries and green, non-food crops.
Adkins and Duggins said USDA grants are available to fund construction of a plant for the town, the cost of which they estimated at $15-$17 million.
"It will not cost the Town of Whiteville anything," Adkins said.
Adkins proposed creation of a Whiteville Utility Biomass Farm and suggested the town create a Special Purpose Utility District under which it would operate.
His proposal for Whiteville includes conversion of the town's existing lagoons to covered lagoons, and using the anaerobic digestor techonology to generate natural gas. The facility would use two drying beds to produce dry biomass fuel for the digestors. The plant, including digestors, energy crops and solar collectors, would take up 25 acres adjacent to the town's wastewater treatment system.
"A mix of sludge from waste and recycled green debris will make a properly mixed slurry," Adkins said. Adkins said 45 percent of the biogas would be produced from wastewater sludge and another 25 percent could come from manure generated by local project partners.
The treated waste required to operate the plant would be 30,000 to 50,000 tons per year. Adkins estimated the output of the plant at 54,000 tons per year, and estimated it would produce 80 percent of the city's need for natural gas in three years. Adkins said “biogas” would be sent into the natural gas grid, making a future Whiteville Corporative independent of other gas producers. Adkins said that the town could move into techonolgies that produce electricity in three years.
"We've got 80 percent right now," Adkins said. "Right now, 85 percent feasibility is the truest that we can achieve."
Adkins said the project could potentially develop into a biorefinery in five to six years, which could produce 200 new jobs.
"These are ways to convert hazardous waste into ways to create electricity and natural gas," Adkins said. Adkins said conversion of the by-products was much more ecologically sound than current methods.
"If they don't do this, uncaptured methane is 21 times more harmful than car emissions," Adkins said. "And we're releasing more wastewater pathogens into waterways now. This process is cleaner than what we have now."
Adkins outlined a proposed Whiteville Utility Cooperative to manage the self-contained Bio Farm his firm envisioned.
In spite of its great potential as described--and the importance that the new cutting-edge technology has for the environment and a small community like Whiteville, which could be one of the first communities its size to adopt it—there are still many questions that need to be answered, Bellar said June 11, before the town could move forward.
In spite of his obvious technical knowledge, a number of questions arise from Adkins' personal profile alone. On Adkins' LinkedIn business-to-business social networking site, he describes himself as “Chief Officer” of “The Whiteville Utility Special Purpose District" for the past four months and "CEO at Whiteville Utility Cooperative" for the past 13 months, although neither Bellar nor the Whiteville board have ever created such a cooperative or district, or granted him such authority. The same profile also describes him as "CEO at Applied Biofuels, Whiteville, TN" for the past four months, although no such company appears in Whiteville under Google searches, and no profile of such a company appears with Adkins' name associated with it, but similarly-named companies do exist elsewhere.
Bellar said June 11 that the presentations at the June 4 meeting were "a preliminary feasibility study,"
and noted that he had received a letter on Adkins from his former employer, Green Energy Solutions of Memphis, that was “essentially a cease and desist order” to stop Adkins from speaking to or working with the town board.
Bellar said the only commitment he made to Adkins' organization was that they could perform a feasibility study, and that the only office Adkins had in the Town of Whiteville was the temporary use of an upstairs office at Bellar's Bass Insurance Agency, which Adkins used for research.
"We have never formed the district, no meetings have been held, and no charters secured," Bellar said June 13.
"We extended an offer to them to come and speak, and we have extended the same offer to his former employer to present to the board, as well," Bellar said. "It's up to the board to decide, but after that, we start all over. We have made no financial commitment on the part of the town."