City should support this project

Published 7:17 pm Friday, September 10, 2010

Since so much of the work done by and on behalf of American businesses is intended to help those businesses comply with various federal, state and local laws, to pay the taxes that spring from those laws or to avoid overexposure to taxes or regulation, it is still surprising and refreshing when government at any level chooses not just to get out of the way of corporate progress but actually to take steps that will help expand corporate opportunity.

The decision by the Suffolk Economic Development Authority on Wednesday to support an application for $20 million worth of low-interest bonds for GPC Green Energy, LLC, is a great example of government working with — and, in fact, investing on behalf of — American business.

As the first company to apply for government financing in one of Suffolk’s two new “recovery zones,” GPC Green Energy — if the EDA’s recommendation is accepted on Wednesday by the City Council — will be able to take advantage of financing options that were not available to the company just a couple of months ago. The program is intended to help finance construction or expansion projects for companies located in areas that have been hard hit by the recession.

GPC Green Energy plans to use the money to build a gas-conversion plant that will harvest carbon dioxide generated by the rotting trash at the Southeastern Public Service Authority landfill in Suffolk. The gas will be converted into electricity, which the company will then sell to BASF Corp. to help power that company’s chemical plant on Wilroy Road. Company officials expect to be able to sell excess electrical capacity to Virginia Power, which could power 4,000 homes in the area with the excess energy from the gas-conversion plant.

The project should be a winner on many different levels. Removing the landfill gas and converting it into electricity is expected to remove the stench that nearby residents have lived with for the past year or so. The electrical demand on the current power grid will be reduced by every kilowatt that the conversion plant produces. BASF should save on its power bill. About 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide will be removed from the air. Nine people will be employed. The city will pick up money on the machinery and tools taxes it collects. The list goes on and on.

“This was a no-brainer,” said GPC Green Energy’s Skip Smith. “This is a neat, neat project.” Smith clearly isn’t likely to be publicly objective about the project he’s asking for help with, but he’s still right in his assessment about the project.

The GPC Green Energy project is exactly the kind of thing that government should support. And Suffolk’s city council has an opportunity to do just that on Wednesday. There’s every reason to expect that council members will see how important this project can be to Suffolk and vote to approve the bonds. That will be a good thing for the company, for Suffolk citizens and for Suffolk as a whole.