Mississippi regulators have fined a wood pellet production facility owned by Drax $2.5 million (€2.06 million) for breaking environmental rules.
The Amite wood pellet facility is located in south-western Mississippi in the town of Gloster. Commissioned in August 2015, the plant sits on 62 acres of land and has around 60 employees. The facility can produce up to 525,000 tonnes of pellets annually.
According to the final order from the Mississippi Department on Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Drax Amite has been exceeding volatile organic compound (VOC) limits since 2017. It is believed to be the largest such fine against a wood pellet facility.
A Drax spokesperson said: “The safety of our people and the communities in which we operate is our priority. We take our environmental responsibilities seriously and we are committed to complying with all local and federal regulations.
“We monitor our emissions and when we saw that they were above the required level for VOCs at our Amite pellet plant in Gloster, Mississippi we notified the regional environment agency – the MDEQ.
"We have worked closely with the agency to resolve the issue, invested in the necessary equipment and already started work to fit the necessary equipment as quickly as possible. Work to fit the equipment is on track to be completed by 1 July.”
Environmental campaigners expressed ‘relief’ over the ruling, with Sasha Stashwick of the Cut Carbon Not Forests campaign, a coalition of US and UK NGOs, adding that the fines are a “drop in the bucket compared to the 2 million per day the UK Government hands the company in the form of biomass subsidies”.
As of March this year, Drax will close its final coal unit at its plant in North Yorkshire, UK, to run entirely on biomass. The company has shared its ambitions to become net-zero by 2030 and is trialling bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) in its efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
At the start of February, Drax announced its plans to acquire Canadian firm Pinnacle Renewable Energy, which would advance the company’s biomass strategy by more than doubling its biomass production capacity.