Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Opponents argue that EPA rule affects biomass plant

Opponents of a proposed biomass gas electric plant in Gainesville are asking the Public Service Commission to delay an expected decision on Thursday because of a new federal rule dealing with greenhouse gas emissions.

The needs determination for the American Renewables plant proposed by Gainesville Regional Utilities is being watched closely by supporters and opponents of biomass power. Supporters say several such plants proposed around the state will provide needed renewable energy. But projects in Gulf, Manatee, Leon and Gadsden counties have been scrapped or face challenges because of local environmental concerns or opposition.

The PSC appeared poised in February to vote down GRU's request for the 100-megawatt power plant. A majority of commissioners questioned whether the plant was needed and said it could end up costing utility customers more if the city can't sell its energy. Gainesville officials asked to delay a decision so they could present additional information to address PSC concerns.

At a May 3 hearing, Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, presented a letter from members of the Gainesville legislative delegation in support of the plant. Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson told the commission that the project would create jobs and allow landowners to sell crops for renewable energy.

The PSC was scheduled to make a decision on Thursday before commissioners David E. Klement and Ben A. "Steve" Stevens III leave at the end of the month because the Senate refused to confirm them. The PSC staff last week recommended approval of the needs determination for the project. The overall cost effectiveness is heavily dependent upon future carbon regulation and the potential resale of half the power from the project, the recommendation said.

Dian Deevey and Paula Stahmer of Gainesville, who have intervened in the case as opponents, filed an emergency motion this week requesting a delay. They say the PSC must reopen the case to consider the impact that new U. S. Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas "tailoring" rule could have on the plant. They contend that the rule, issued May 13, would make it more difficult for GRU to sell credits in the future to offset greenhouse gas emissions by other plants around the country.

GRU utilities marketing manager Lewis Walton said the rule won't have an economic impact on the proposed plant. GRU has asked the PSC to issue the needs determination on Thursday, Walton said.

(Story provided by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

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