Advanced Energy Projects Highlight Recent Announcements

Several years of planning by two Southeast communities have reached fruition with April announcements of new jobs and investment in biomass and nuclear fuels.

John Swope recalls making initial contact with officials at Fibrowatt in September 2005. He and other Sampson County officials worked directly with the Philadelphia-based company throughout 2006. "By end of 2006, about 100 people here had met with the company," says Swope, who is director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission. After spending the bulk of 2007 identifying workable sites, Fibrowatt, a pioneer in the generation of renewable energy from poultry waste, announced plans in April to build the first of three North Carolina biomass power plants in Sampson County, near the intersection of I-40 and N.C. Highway 403.

"Sampson County offered an attractive site with everything we were looking for, including good topography, a utility transmission line crossing the site, convenient highway access and close proximity to an ample supply of poultry litter," says Rupert Fraser, chief executive officer at Fibrowatt, which was founded in 2000 by a management group that had developed similar power plants in the United Kingdom during the 1990s. "When we completed our technical evaluation of all of the sites offered, it was an easy choice to make," Mr. Fraser says.

Fibrowatt's 55-megawatt SampsonCounty plant (slated to be named the Fibrocoast plant) will amount to a $200 million investment and will provide employment for about 35 people at an average yearly salary of $42,000, Mr. Swope says. A nearby fertilizer production facility that will rely on a Fibrowatt by-product will create another 10 jobs. Mr. Swope expects additional industries may find their way to the attractive Greenfield property within view of I-40. "We're excited that this project might be the start of additional development at that interchange," says Mr. Swope.

Five years after relocating its headquarters to Wilmington, GE's Nuclear Energy Division is bringing additional employment, physical plant and investment dollars through its partnership with Japan's Hitachi Ltd. GE Hitachi (GEH) intends to build new manufacturing capacity, training centers, simulation buildings and testing facilities at its 1,600-acre campus in New Hanover County in a move bringing $900 million in new investment and 900 scientific, technical and managerial jobs averaging $85,000 in annual pay. Some 22 North American locations vied for the facility, which will pioneer laser-based uranium enrichment technologies that have important ramifications for the nation's commercial energy producers.

"At a time when many American communities are dealing with shuttered plants and idled workers, Greater Wilmington continues its emergence as a center for the growth-oriented industries of the Knowledge Age," said Scott Satterfield, president and CEO of Wilmington Industrial Development (WID), which worked quietly with GEH executives for more than a year in addressing the company's site, workforce and location needs.