Berkeley energy plant partly shuts down to install odor filters

GenEarth converts organic waste into amino and organic acids, then bio-gases such as methane. The gas is converted into electricity, which is fed back into the power grid.

MONCKS CORNER — Carol Price is happy that she can open her windows to take advantage of the cooler weather that rolled in this week.

She hopes that steps being taken by a nearby green energy plant will make it possible for her to keep them open.

Price lives in Foxbank Plantation off U.S. Highway 52 in the town limits of Moncks Corner, not far from the Berkeley County Landfill and GenEarth Berkeley, a green energy plant that opened last year.

Foxbank is an 800-acre master-planned community that includes about 850 of 2,400 planned single- and multi-family homes. A retail area, fire station, elementary school and churches are also scheduled for the area.

“We all knew when we moved here that we were going to be near a landfill,” she said. “But there was never a problem until a few weeks ago.”

That was when she and others started noticing a “terrible and disgusting smell, like a pig farm,” she said. Some of her neighbors complained of nausea and headaches.

Tuesday, GenEarth shut down about half of its operation.

“We haven’t smelled anything since they shut the plant down,” Price said. “I cannot begin to tell you how nice it is. We walked through the community last night and all our neighbors were out. Everybody has noticed the difference.”

GenEarth, a Sumter-based company, converts organic waste into amino and organic acids, then bio-gases such as methane. The gas is converted into about 1.6 megawatts of electricity, which is fed back into the power grid in partnership with Santee Cooper. Several public agencies and companies funnel their waste products to GenEarth instead of the landfill.

GenEarth officials are not convinced they are responsible for the stink, but “at the same time, we are not saying it’s not us,” said Mike Edwards of GenEarth. “The landfill site is dealing with the same materials we are dealing with, but there’s a tendency to say, ‘You’re the new guys on the block, so you’re the guys that caused it.’”

Plant manager Wes Drummond said GenEarth has passed inspections and is in compliance with state Department of Health and Environmental Control regulations.

“We just finished an expansion about a month ago and had started it up,” Drummond said. “We decided to shut it down until we get all of our odor abatement equipment installed.”

He said it will take about two weeks to install carbon filters.

“Our biggest thing is we want to be good neighbors and that’s why we’ve kind of taken this pro-active approach as if everything is our odor,” Drummond said. He said he has tried to speak to everyone who called to complain.

Moncks Corner, Berkeley County and Community Management Group, which manages Foxbank, also received complaints, their employees said. People who live in other nearby neighborhoods also complained about the smell.

“I was concerned initially that there could be a leak in the sewer line or a pump station wasn’t acting properly so we first tried to make sure that we eliminated any on-site potential,” said Jeff Randolph, project manager with the Randolph Group, developer of Foxbank. “When we did that, it was like, ‘OK, it’s coming from somewhere else.’”

He has been pleased with GenEarth’s response.

“It appears that there’s a recognition on the part of the county and the owner-operator of the bioenergy plant that there is an issue,” he said. “They are trying to be pro-active putting additional filters on, so I have trust that it’s being addressed.”

During the shutdown, the plant’s six employees are cross-training in other areas.

“Sure, there are financial implications (to being closed),” Edwards said. “But why jeopardize our future by making a decision that hopefully can be a lot better going forward? We can’t argue that we don’t have a smell. The odor is there.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or