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Delay provides time to address concerns about Surry plant

Surry County planning commissioners last month raised some valid questions about a proposed plant that would make good use of hog poop by converting its methane to pipeline-quality natural gas. While the commission’s 60-day delay on a decision to recommend or reject the project seems reasonable given the complexities surrounding it, we hope Surry supervisors ultimately approve a project that would be good for the environment and for county tax rolls.

As Times reporter Stephen Faleski wrote last week, Align RNG, a joint venture of Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, wants to build the regional facility on 22.8 acres off Route 31 near the Sussex County line. It would process the raw biogas delivered via pipelines from participating farms in Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties, according to a report by the county’s planning and zoning staff.

When hog manure breaks down, Faleski explained, it emits methane, a component of natural gas, which is also a greenhouse gas. Currently, this methane is emitted into the atmosphere, but can be captured through the use of covered lagoons and an anaerobic digester, according to company officials. Project backers estimate the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from participating farms would be like taking more than 22,000 vehicles off the road.

That strikes us as a desirable outcome, not to mention the plant’s impact on county tax rolls and the two full-time jobs it would create.

Planners’ vote at the Sept. 27 public hearing to table a decision for 60 days is reasonable so that they can more thoroughly consider citizen concerns, mainly whether nearby property owners will have to tolerate a stench.

A Dominion spokeswoman insisted that sulfur will be removed from the raw biogas and that, as a result, there will be “no detectable odors.” But because the plant would be the first one of its kind in Virginia, project backers owe the county more than a verbal declaration.

County officials should independently speak with officials and residents of Milford, Utah, about eight miles from where Align RNG’s only other U.S. facility of its kind is located.

Another reasonable question posed by planning commissioners concerned the number of trucks that would regularly visit the site to haul away the extracted sulfur.

We hope Align RNG and county planning staff can thoroughly but quickly address residents’ concerns so the project can move forward.