No decision yet on Surry natural gas project

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A proposed natural gas project drew opposition from Surry residents at a Jan. 6 public hearing — leading the county’s Board of Supervisors to postpone voting on the matter.

Align RNG, a joint venture of Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, wants to build a regional facility off Route 31 that would turn methane from hog manure into pipeline-quality natural gas. TRC Environmental Corp. has filed for a conditional use permit on behalf of Align to allow the project on an agricultural-zoned parcel at Surry’s border with Sussex County.

The proposed facility would serve as a hub for participating Smithfield farms in Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. When hog manure breaks down, it emits methane, a component of natural gas that’s also a greenhouse gas. Align proposes to capture this gas and transform it into a 99% pure product by filtering out its hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide components.

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According to company officials, the reduction in greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere from farming operations should be roughly equivalent to taking 22,000 vehicles off the road. The proposed facility would also bring over $243,000 per year in estimated tax revenue to the county, starting in 2023, according to an economic and fiscal impact report prepared for Dominion.

But by the end of the night’s commentary on the matter, chances of Align receiving approval to build the facility as-is on the company’s desired location seemed slim.

“I counted 75 homes in a half-mile radius of this site … once that’s built, we have no way to get out of it,” said Tommy Lindsay, who lives less than a quarter-mile from the proposed site.

Abram Ketchum took issue with the pollution that would result from the facility.

While Align considers the facility to have an overall “net negative” carbon footprint by keeping methane out of the atmosphere, company officials had previously admitted that the facility would emit just over 8 tons of sulfur dioxide and 12 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

“It’s the wrong place, totally the wrong place,” Ketchum said.

Dendron District Supervisor Michael Drewry, who represents the area of the county in which the proposed facility would be located, said he supports the concept, but not its proposed location.

“Landowners have called me with concerns … I’ve had no one to call me in support, none,” Drewry said.

Six people spoke at the hearing, five in opposition and one — Kevin Monahan — in support.

“I think it’s the right direction to go for renewable energy and for the agricultural production of the county,” Monahan said.

Carsley District Supervisor Ronald Howell Jr. called on Align to look into the feasibility of finding a more isolated location in the county.

“It may be hard; it may be rolling up their sleeves,” Howell said.

“I”m sorry we’re at this point and we can’t move forward,” added Board Chairwoman Judy Lyttle.

The vote to table the matter passed 4-0 with Surry District Supervisor Timothy Calhoun abstaining.