Off The Back Burner

Zilkha, ReEnergy Projects

The theme of this issue is revitalization. Both of the feature stories are about idled mill operations that found new life under new ownership and management.

One is a wood pellet mill in the Southeast and the other is wood biomass power plant in the Northeast.

The article on Zilkha Biomass Energy’s startup of its black pellets plant in Selma, Ala. hits especially close to home, one reason being that it’s only an hour’s drive from our home office in Montgomery, Ala., but mainly because our very first issue of Wood Bioenergy in the summer of 2009 featured the pellet operation that previously ran on the same site, called Dixie Pellets.

Dixie Pellets was one of the first U.S. Southeast industrial white pellet operations shipping product to power plants overseas. But only a couple of months after the article came out, the operation filed for bankruptcy and some messy accusations began to surface involving the developer, owner and suppliers. Rumors as to the reasons for Dixie’s demise swelled: poor product quality, fiber processing issues, and a problem with barge transportation, namely that the Alabama River downstream of the mill (and downstream of the Claiborne Lock & Dam) was too shallow at times causing less than full-load shipments.

By March 2010 the company asked the court if it could sell its assets, and shortly thereafter Zilkha Biomass Energy, owned by a Houston-based family team that has had great success in energy projects, stepped in and bought it.

Biomass Resource Image 001
From Left: Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief; Jay Donnell, Associate Editor; Dan Shell, Western Editor; Jessica Johnson, Associate Editor; David Abbott, Senior Associate Editor; David (DK) Knight, Co-Publisher/Executive Editor

You can pick up the rest of the story beginning on page 16. But what Zilkha Biomass Energy has built and rebuilt there, given existing space constraints, is remarkable. And meanwhile Zilkha merely changed the product from white pellets to black pellets. We’ll know soon enough if it also changed the course of the industrial pellet industry. Zilkha is already thinking ahead to its next black pellet plant, this one a greenfield project, in Monticello, Ark.

The subject of the other main article in this issue, ReEnergy, is no stranger to us either. In 2013 we featured the startup of its Black River-Fort Drum (Watertown, NY) facility, which it converted from coal to biomass. ReEnergy has emerged as the most prolific biomass power plant developer and owner in the country.

As we were publishing the Fort Drum story, ReEnergy already owned the biomass power plant at Ashland, Maine that is the centerpiece of the article in this issue. In December 2011 ReEnergy had purchased it and four others biomass power plants in the region from Montreal-based Boralex Industries. The deal represented ReEnergy’s total commitment to biomass, and Boralex’s total withdrawl from it in favor of other renewable energy ventures such as wind and solar.

The 39 MW Ashland facility, which opened in 1993, had been down since March 2011 (not the first time it had been shuttered) when ReEnergy purchased it. For the first time in three and a half years the plant went into commercial production last October.

Again here we have another impressive project, this one fighting the weather elements as much as the aged equipment. Its success provides ReEnergy a blueprint for future restart projects.