Forsite quietly negotiating with Duke on ReVenture plant

By Tori Hamby

MOUNT HOLLY – Since announcing plans to scale back the size of a much-criticized garbage-to-energy plant, developers of ReVenture Park have seen their project largely drop from the headlines.

But largely reducing electricity production from 20- to 10-megawatts in May, Forsite Development officials say they hope to continue to allay public concerns about a planned waste-to-energy plant slated for its eco-industrial park. 

Tom McKittrick, head of Forsite Development, the developer of ReVenture Park, said this week that his company is moving ahead with its proposal for the 667-acre former Superfund hazardous waste site. McKittrick wouldn’t share details, but his company is negotiating a contract for Duke Energy to buy electricity produced by the waste-to-energy plant at the site of the former Clariant Corp. textile dye plant on Amble Drive in Mount Holly.

Forsite decided to scale back the size of its proposed power plant after debate about renewable energy legislation in Raleigh made electricity produced by waste-to-energy plants less attractive to utilities.

“During this past legislative session, there was some uncertainty that caused utilities to pause,” McKittrick said. In some ways, the legislative maneuvering “took a lot of pressure off of the project” because Forsite Development no longer needed to secure the volume of garbage that only Mecklenburg County could provide.

Forsite also dropped its request to use an expanded Foxhole Landfill in Ballantyne as a back-up disposal site for ash and excess waste. After Forsite scaled back the size of its plant, Mecklenburg County Commissioners cancelled a $100,000 independent study of ReVenture’s garbage-to-power proposal.

Forsite now plans to buy trash from a private hauler and use a private landfill for ash disposal, though McKittrick would not identify the hauler or the landfill. 

In the end, McKittrick and supporters like Belmont resident David March say society needs to support projects like ReVenture and efforts to do more than bury garbage.

March is an engineering chemist who works with alternative energy firms to improve their operational efficiency, environmental impact and sustainability.

March argues environmental-policy makers should take the practical road and use gasification – the process that Forsite proposes to use at its ReVenture plant – to convert waste into fuel and create a valuable resource.

Gasification remains a more expensive way of producing electricity than traditional sources but coal, oil and gas are nonrenewable sources that do nothing to combat waste management, March said. 

“There’s the simple solution to the waste-management crisis, which is to not generate waste. That’s unrealistic and would mean everyone would have to give up things such as packaged products,” said March, who has been working with McKittrick to get ReVenture off the ground. “There’s the easy solution, which is to do what we’ve been doing and continue to use landfills. Landfills stink, emit methane gas and there’s not always going to be an unlimited supply of land to bury our trash under. The practical solution is to deal with it in a way that makes a positive contribution.” 

The thought of burning trash to make fuel naturally makes many people uneasy, McKittrick acknowledges. To meet strict environmental guidelines, Forsite will remove any materials that would cause harmful emissions, such as batteries or mercury switches, he said. Waste paper, such as pizza boxes and used paper towels, would make up the bulk of the waste material. 

“Paper products are wood products,” March said. “What did we used to do to heat our homes before electricity? We would burn wood.”

Mount Holly Senior Planner Greg Beal said his town’s leaders are excited to take advantage of other ReVenture Park amenities, such as an education center, learning laboratories and nature trails.

“I think the large focus has been the incinerator issue, but there are many other things that have been put into ReVenture,” Beal said. 

While the waste-to-fuel plant serves as ReVenture’s anchor project, the eco-industrial park includes several other components:

• A Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities-operated regional wastewater treatment facility.

• An energy-crop demonstration stand.

• A 185-acre conservation easement and trail system along the Long Creek basin that will connect the Carolina Thread Trail to the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

• A 3,000-square-foot business park that will serve small businesses focused on renewable energy.

• Educational space devoted to science-technology-engineering-mathematics (STEM) and environmental programs. q

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