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$10M in state funding to back Kent County Sustainable Business Park, bioenergy facility – Crain’s Grand Rapids

July 27, 2023

Plans for Kent County’s Sustainable Business Park, along with a bioenergy facility that converts waste into renewable gas and would serve as the park’s anchor tenant, have received $10 million in state funding as the developments make “great progress.”

Kent County Bioenergy Facility LLC, a subsidiary of Burlington, Ontario-based Anaergia Inc., earlier this month was awarded a $5 million Low Carbon Energy Infrastructure Enhancement and Development grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission to support the plant’s development.

Through a partnership with the Kent County Department of Public Works (DPW), the Kent County Bioenergy Facility is intended to serve as the anchor tenant for the broader Sustainable Business Park, a 250-acre site near the South Kent Landfill. State lawmakers allocated $5 million for the business park in the upcoming state budget, which awaits Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature.

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County officials say the overall project goals are to increase recycling, reduce Kent County’s dependence on landfills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and produce carbon-negative renewable fuel.

Specifically, Kent County has an ambitious goal of diverting 90% of trash from the local landfill by 2030. Officials say this facility will immediately help capture and divert 50% of landfill trash.

“This facility is designed to take 400,000 tons of what we call municipal solid waste, or trash, and process it, and be able when it’s full scale to process up to 600,000 tons,” said Dar Baas, director at Kent County DPW. “So it can actually be scaled up larger as the county continues to grow.”

The Kent County Bioenergy Facility has been about eight years in the making since the department decided to take a closer look at the amount of material going into landfills.

“We saw a marked increase in the amount going to landfill (at the time) because of the economic engine here in West Michigan and people moving into the area,” Baas said.

The department sent out a request for information to companies around the world, seeking a potential partner that could develop a landfill alternative. After some feedback and visiting various facilities around the U.S., the department selected the bioenergy facility and chose to partner with Anaergia following a request for proposals on the project.

The 305,000-square-foot bioenergy plant is a partnership between the county and Ontario, Canada-based Anaergia Inc. Credit: Kent County
Energy, fertilizer producer

Not only will the facility operate as a mixed waste processing facility, but it also will serve as an anaerobic digestion facility. The 175,000 tons of organic waste per year will be used to produce natural gas and fertilizer.

“You take your organic waste — the food waste and all those types of materials — out of the trash, and you take source-separated organics from food producers and other similar companies, and you make renewable natural gas through anaerobic digestion,” Baas explained.

For Baas, the $5 million from the Michigan Public Service Commission is a recognition of the facility’s dual capabilities with both solid waste and renewable natural gas.

“Those two don’t intersect much,” Baas said. “The Michigan Public Service Commission recognized the interconnection with those two opportunities, and that funding really helps us move the project forward.”

The facility is designed to encompass 305,000 square feet on a 40-acre lot — seven times larger than the county’s current recycling facility, according to Baas. Roughly 60 new jobs will be created, with 10 employees operating the scale and the inbound material while 50 or so will maintain the overall plant itself.

The Kent County Board of Public Works earlier this month signed off on the project, which is now awaiting review and approval from the county Board of Commissioners.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Stek said while the county board appears to support the project, three key components will need to be addressed before voting to approve it. Those questions involve the scope and nature of any ordinance that governs the handling of solid waste throughout Kent County; how much funding the county will contribute for the project; and whether the plans will require any county government restructuring.

Fundamentally restructuring how the county historically has addressed the municipal solid waste management is complex, Stek said.

“From a perspective of a long-term policy strategy, I think I would say that the board likes the idea. … In general, the commissioners like being more innovative and looking in the direction of finding something that is more sustainable long-term — but it’s not an easy call,” Stek said. “The question is whether the project is sustainable, and whether the risks are worth taking compared to the risks of landfilling. But it is certainly something that has the promise of being able to move us in a completely different direction.”

If progress continues as planned, the facility could be fully operational by early 2027.

In a statement earlier this month, Anaergia CEO Brett Hodson said the bioenergy facility will significantly cut methane emissions and “will do no less than help save the planet.”

“We are grateful that the Michigan Public Service Commission has provided these funds to help make this project happen, and we commend Kent County DPW for leading the way and serving as a scalable model for counties around the country to follow,” he said.
Sustainable Business Park site plans
The planned Kent County Sustainable Business Park would span 250 acres and, in addition to a bioenergy plant, potentially host a variety of material processing companies. Credit: Kent County
‘Do things differently’

Meanwhile, lawmakers allocated another $5 million in the upcoming state budget to help with the development of the Sustainable Business Park. The budget allocation will support site infrastructure at the park and follows an initial $4 million state investment for the project in 2022. Additionally, Baas said DPW has set aside $10 million to help fund the park.

The total cost of the business park is estimated at $380 million, with 20% being funded by the county and 80% being funded from the partnership with Anaergia. County officials say no taxes will be raised to help fund the project, and about 20% of the bioenergy facility would be funded by issuing bonds.

County officials also note that early estimates show an increased tipping rate of about $3-$4 per month on the average residential bill because of this new facility. Ultimately, individual waste haulers serving Kent County would determine what they charge their customers.

This initial phase of the business park requires $23 million in infrastructure improvements like roads, utilities and site preparation, to be funded through grants and other sources. Baas said the county is currently working on bids for some of the infrastructure components.

“We’re at nearly 100% design … we’re making great progress. We’re all but ready — we just need to have that anchor tenant,” Baas said, referring to the bioenergy plant. Other potential business park tenants could include processors for various materials, including plastics, paper and agricultural plant waste.

He said the project is an opportunity for Kent County “to do things differently” and move away from its reliance on landfills.

“This can be a leader and a model that can be replicated in other areas of the state and country. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but we can share the process, we can share our thinking, we can share how we went through this and how we came to our conclusion,” Baas said. “And I think it gives an opportunity for other counties and other locations to be able to take a look at this and say, ‘OK, that’s how they get it. How can we do that at a scale for our community?’ That’s what I’m excited about with this funding.”

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