After a highly charged debate that has lasted for several months, a company has received the OK by the county’s board of commissioners to construct a proposed gasification plant in Lithonia.
“Yes we’re emotional, but that doesn’t change the facts,” said Dr. Darren Harper, a professor at Morehouse School of Medicine who lives in Lithonia. “And the facts are that these toxins that will be spewed into our environment [and] into our community will be killing people and making them sick. Just say ‘no’ to this gasification plant.”
Upholding a motion to approve the plan by Commissioner Lee May, the board voted on June 14 to approve a proposed 10-megawatt facility to be located on 21 acres on Rogers Lake Road outside the city limits of Lithonia. Green Energy Partners is planning to construct a $60 million plant to convert yard waste into renewable natural gas.
According to Green Energy officials, the plant will use a method called pyrolysis in which yard trimmings are placed in oxygen-free chambers. The chambers are then heated to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit with natural gas burners to produce syngas, which is turned into renewable natural gas (RNG).
During construction the project would bring 500 temporary construction jobs and add $60 million to the county’s tax base. Nearly 100 permanent jobs will be created to run the facility.
May added 18 conditions to the plant’s operations, including the formation of a community advisory committee that would monitor the activities of Green Energy Partners. The plant would be restricted to using only wood and yard waste; must maintain an air quality permit and fire safety plan; and would be required to publish all warnings from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in the county’s legal organ, The Champion.
Patrick Ejike, representing Green Energy Partners, said the project is “good for the county on a number of levels.”
“This is a $60 million investment in the county,” Ejike said. “There has not been a $16 million investment in the county in past years.”
Allegations that the project is harmful to the environment are false, Ejike said.
“I have kids. I couldn’t support something that I know that is harmful to the county or to my kids,” Ejike said.
Courtney Miller, a resident supporting the Green Energy project, said the project “is good for the environment [and] good for our financial health.”
Miller said the project also helps DeKalb County answer the charge given by President Barak Obama to decrease the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
May said the controversy surrounding the project stems from a difference of opinion on the technology used.
“The overwhelming evidence is that converting wood into energy is better for the environment,” May said. “It’s better for our public health. It reduces our dependence on fossil fuels like coal.
“That allows us to be better stewards of the environment,” said May, who lives near the site of the proposed development.
“I live closer to this development than 99 percent of everybody that was here in opposition,” May said. “I drive by it. I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. I would not jeopardize their health.”
As May voiced his support for the proposal, there were shouts and general rowdiness in the packed auditorium. Two people were escorted out of meeting. One person yelled, “It’s going to cost you.”
Some opponents of the project have vowed to continue fighting against it, objecting to the permitting of the plant by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and by recalling county commissioners.
“If we have to recall this whole slate of commissioners, we will start the recall process starting with Lee May,” said Dr. Jewel Crawford, a professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine, who was one of two opponents of the project who were escorted from the meeting by police.
Crawford said DeKalb County will be adversely affected by the plant, which will “spew out tons of pollution.”
“This wood is treated with pesticides,” Crawford said. “That wood has pesticides and carcinogenic chemicals in them. We have enough sick people in this county.”
Resident Tracy Ann Williams said the Lithonia area is “already oversaturated with this industry and to add more would be negligent.”
“The only green in this project is the money that Green Energy will receive from stimulus dollars and the taxpayers’ money,” Williams said. “The only green in this project is the money that DeKalb County will hope to collect in taxes.”