More than 80 years after Bibb Manufacturing opened its Porter Hydro Plant, innovator Stephen Odom plans to use it to revolutionize the water filtration and production industry.
Odom is CEO of Vclear Resources, a Florida-based venture company that he said has co-developed a water filtration technology that will allow significant amounts of water to be produced by plants located on rivers and allow to governments to avoid having to build as many expensive, land-intensive reservoirs. However, he said the technology could also be a less expensive technology to be used on large and small reservoirs.
Vclear purchased the plant July 15 from an investment group based in Pennsylvania. The plant had been shut down for more than a year because of a legal dispute with MEAG, and had been trying to operate during a severe drought prior to that.
The Porterdale plant represents Vclear’s pilot project, and the results of three years of planning. Odom said he plans to move all of his operations to Newton County. He has already purchased a house in the county to use as office space, and if he’s successful he said he would likely construct an engineering facility in the county as well.
"We want this to be our flagship location. We’ve raised the capital to acquire the plant and to do modifications," he said in a phone interview Thursday. "We hope this will be a really good showcase and we’re excited to do something for Porterdale … what finally sold me on going ahead with this plant first, believe or not, were the local residents. They were so nice. Sometimes living in Atlanta you lose that perspective."
Odom said the hydroelectric plant will require about one million dollars worth of repairs and new equipment to get up and running, but he will try to retain as much of the historical flavor as possible. He said the company will not immediately seek a permit to filter and sell water but will conduct tests in the meantime.
Odom said the Porterdale plant is the perfect location for the company to test its new technology. From the top of the dam on the Yellow River, the water drops down 48 feet by the time it reaches the turbines in the hydro plant. The plant will be able to generate electric power and use the pressure created by that drop to push the water through the proprietary filtration system.
"We’ll basically be dumping fresh water back into the river (at first). We’re not doing this thinking that we’re going to absolutely get a permit from the county, but we’d like to show them we can do something fairly unique that can be a saleable product," Odom said.
When asked why water filtration facilities were not already commonly located on rivers, Odom said contractors and other people in the industry are used to trying to get big reservoir deals completed.
"They’re often looking at making major money off a very big deal. They try to train people to think that’s the best way to go," Odom said. "On other hand, you have people like me who can accomplish the same thing and provide a benefit to society and local areas. Instead of making money off one big project, I want to do joint venture projects all over the world and make a difference."
In addition to being expensive to build and requiring expensive water pipeline infrastructure, reservoir projects can take more than a decade to complete and can sometimes force people off their land, he said. Newton County has experience with these potential hang-ups, as one resident has refused to move from property planned for the Bear Creek reservoir in the southern part of the county.
However, Odom said he would not be competing with Bear Creek, which he believes is still a benefit, but would be an economically-beneficial complement.
"In the water business we’re still building highly centralized reservoirs that environmentalists often don’t like because of the land they take … if we can build new water sources in distributable fashion, we’ll localize that. We can do it very quickly and very economically. Municipalities don’t need to fund it, I’ll fund it. They’ll see high quality water and see reduction in costs for their customers. It will be a win, win for everyone."
Odom estimated that a water treatment plant on the Yellow River could provide about 10 million gallons per day. With its recent expansion, the county’s Cornish Creek Plant can produce 25 million gallons per day.
"We can produce 10 million gallons on a 15,000 sq. ft. footprint; that’s unheard of … we’re just using the latest technologies," Odom said.
One other benefit of his product would be the ability to filter out all harmful elements but leave the good minerals. He said some common water filtration systems, like reverse osmosis, often remove minerals like magnesium and calcium, which make water healthy.
Odom said the technology could eventually be adapted to even allow large neighborhoods to produce their own water from smaller bodies of water.
Potential Future Large Industry
If Vclear decided to build a water treatment plant that would likely cost $30 million to $40 million. He said a plant could employ a couple dozens of people, but the more significant employment would be if the Vclear headquarters and engineering facility come to Newton County. He said those facilities would give him the opportunity to hire some highly technical employees from the local area.
In addition to the grandiose water treatment plans, Odom expects to produce an average of two to three megawatts of electricity. He said he is currently negotiating to sell that power to Georgia Power. He hopes to have the power plant up and running by December. If the Porterdale project is successful, Odom has plans to expand to several other plants in the Atlanta area.
Odom was previously CEO of the telecommunications company Verso Technologies, based in Atlanta, which worked with internet-protocol communication.