Power generator in upper Dorchester to keep tree limbs, right-of-way clearings out of landfill

The cement district in upper Dorchester County is bracing for a jolt of alternative energy.

An Alabama-based company will invest $50 million to build a new wood waste-burning renewable power plant next year north of Harleyville, state and county officials announced Thursday.

Southeast Renewable Energy said last September it would build the facility in 2012 in the county and generate 20 jobs over the next five years.

The new plant will be built near Interstate 26 and S.C. Highway 453 on an eight-acre tract on Seven Mile Road beside a Santee Cooper power substation, said Raine Cotton, president and chief executive officer.

Three cement-making plants sit close by on Highway 453.

The 15-megawatt biomass energy plant will use virgin wood residues such as tree limbs and right-of-way clearings as part of its fuel source. It will sell its generated power to state-owned electric and water utility Santee Cooper over the next 30 years.

It's a "win-win opportunity," Cotton said. "Utilizing the county's wood residue is not only sustainable, but it will also save them money and create local jobs."

The agreement with the county to use its virgin wood residue for fuel is expected to save Dorchester County about $300,000 each year.

The company will collect brush and limbs now brought to the county's waste collection centers and keep it out of the landfill, County Council Chairman Larry Hargett said.

"Not only is SRE creating jobs and investing in Dorchester County, but our partnership will save the county money as well," he said.

Southeast Renewable Energy plans to build three $50 million, 15-megawatt plants around the state, and Santee Cooper will buy power from them.

The other plants will be constructed in Kershaw and Allendale counties, also by the end of 2012, Cotton said.

The new plants are expected to create many indirect jobs in the logging, trucking and forest product industries, he added.

Southeast Renewable Energy started in the ethanol business in 2000 but switched to biomass fuels three years ago.

The company will begin requesting applications for the new positions early next year, Cotton said.