Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Florida Cabinet approves Gainesville biomass plant
A proposed wood-burning power plant in Gainesville that would be tied for being the largest of its kind in the nation was approved Tuesday by the governor and Cabinet.
In their last meeting before leaving office, the four elected Cabinet members voted unanimously to approve a power plant construction and operating certificate as recommended by an administrative law judge. American Renewables still must receive a state air pollution permit, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is awaiting a recommendation from Administrative Law Judge Robert E. Meale on a permit challenge.
Gov. Charlie Crist, Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink have pointed to such woody biomass plants as an important source of renewable energy in Florida's future. But some proposed projects around the state have been delayed or scrapped because of local opposition.
Bronson said Tuesday opponents had "shouted down" projects using "misinformation and faulty science." Attorney General Bill McCollum said the Cabinet must determine that a legal error occurred to reject the judge's recommendation for approval.
"I think this can be a great breakthrough," Crist said of the project, adding that he had "great trust and great confidence" in the groups that supported it.
Gainesville officials said the project will produce jobs and renewable energy using waste wood and will reduce the city's reliance on coal burning. Project supporters include the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Florida Forestry Association and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
"The project has something of value for everybody," Gainesville Mayor Pro Tem Jeanna Mastrodicasa said. At 100 megawatts, the project would produce enough power for 70,000 homes. It would be tied with a plant under construction in Texas for being the largest woody biomass plant in the nation, according to American Renewables Inc.
An attorney for former Mayor Thomas Bussing, who filed a legal challenge against the siting permit application, said it was premature under state law for the Cabinet to vote because the air permit had not been issued. Opponents argued that the plant will contribute to pollution and global climate change and puts Gainesville utility customers at risk of rate increases to pay for the project.
"I would like to say this is not green energy," Alachua County resident Maria Minno said. "Biomass incineration has unacceptable health risks."
(Story provided by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.)