Over 24 million acres of biomass, an attractive business climate and suite of incentives is keeping Georgia in the project spotlight.
The late Ray Charles once said an old, sweet song kept Georgia on his mind. Today, it’s the growing biomass production industry that is keeping pellet producers from forgetting the Empire State of the South.
Georgia’s forestry industry had every right to sing the blues during the Great Recession. In the years between 2006 and 2010, the industry lost 41,235 direct and indirect employees, dealing a horrible blow to Georgia’s second-largest industry and the 47 counties that are dependent on the state’s forests, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission.
With the economy currently rebounding, however, the U.S. Southeast, especially Georgia, has become a hotbed for biomass projects. Georgia’s forestry industry is showing signs of stabilization as of 2011, due in part to the biomass industry. Herty Advanced Materials and Development Center, a "new product accelerator" aligned with Georgia Southern University, currently has 32 bioenergy projects, proposed or in operation, ranking it second in the nation––behind California with 33––according to Jill Stuckey, director of external relations. These projects are investing millions of dollars in rural communities hit hard by the recession and employing dozens of local residents, she says. Germany-based RWE Innogy located its wholly owned subsidiary Georgia Biomass LLC, one of the largest pellet plants in the world, at Waycross, Ga.
Neighboring states are experiencing slower development––Florida currently has 15 bioenergyprojects and Alabama has eight. So what makes Georgia the Graceland of southern bioenergy? James Roecker, CEO of Georgia Biomass, says RWE’s decision to locate the company’s first U.S. facility in Georgia was influenced by several factors, largely, Georgia offers an abundant fiber supply in close proximity to the coast.
“[And] the Savannah harbor we are utilizing has good capability to handle and ship wood pellets in bulk, and has proven capability and facilities to store and ship other bulk products,” he adds. There is also an established rail corridor that connects the fiber basket with the harbor, plus the city ofWaycross has a healthy business climate and provided access to good labor talent, he says. “We received exceptional support from the local, economic development organization, the county, and the state of Georgia.”