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Gainesville biomass project clears regulatory hurdles

By Gainesville Renewable Energy Center | December 08, 2010

Two rulings announced on Dec. 7 moved the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center closer to a construction start.

The Florida Power Plant Siting Board, composed of the Florida governor and the independently elected members of the Cabinet, unanimously approved the site application for the proposed biomass power plant in Gainesville, Fla. This siting board approval is the culmination of the permitting and regulatory activities designed to ensure that the project is in the best interests of the citizens of Florida. In announcing the approval, Gov. Charlie Crist said, “I think this can be a great breakthrough and I think it is the right thing to do. The groups that have supported this, I have great trust and confidence in them.”

Also on Dec. 7, a Florida administrative law judge issued his second ruling in favor of the proposed biomass plant. Judge Robert E. Meale’s recommended orders for the plant’s air construction permit rejected claims made by petitioners who oppose the plant. He found instead that the facility will comply with all applicable environmental regulations and will not cause adverse air emissions impacts or adverse impacts to wildlife species or their habitat. The air construction permit is expected to be finalized by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in the next few weeks.

On Nov. 1, in a separate but related process for the site certification application, Judge Meale issued an order recommending that a site certification be granted for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center despite the claims of one intervenor. In that order, Judge Meale stated, “Instead of undermining sound silvicultural practices, the new market for biomass materials will enhance the viability of forestry resources and thus serve regional environmental needs.”

The 100-megawatt biomass project will be owned and operated by American Renewables,

LLC. Gainesville Regional Utilities, the municipally-owned utility that serves the Gainesville community, has a 30-year power purchase agreement to buy all power generated. GRU chose to move forward with GREC after undergoing a seven-year process to review options to responsibly and cost-effectively meet its future generation needs while helping Gainesville achieve its carbon reduction goals. GREC, which will be fueled by wood waste, will meet GRU’s need for improved reliability, increased fuel diversity and long-term cost savings for customers.

Almost two-thirds of the energy GRU currently produces is fueled by coal, and 25 percent comes from natural gas.

The three national bond rating agencies that recently awarded the utility “Double A” ratings cited a lack of fuel diversity as one of the challenges facing GRU. Adding biomass to the fuel supply will help the utility maintain its high bond ratings, which in the past six years have saved customers more than $67 million.

“The siting board’s decision and the Judge’s order confirm that GREC will be designed and operated in an environmentally responsible manner,” said Josh Levine, project manager for American Renewables. “We look forward to quickly beginning construction.” Levine added. “It is critical that the project move forward without delay so the citizens of Gainesville and the region can reap the significant economic benefits the plant will bring, including more than 700 direct and indirect permanent jobs throughout the region, as well as the benefit of nearly $200 million in reduced rates over 30 years if the project remains on schedule and is eligible for federal stimulus dollars.”

The plant has been approved and endorsed by a wide variety of government agencies, nonprofits and other organizations from the environmental, business, forestry and other communities, including: the Florida Wildlife Federation, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Florida Forestry Association, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Municipal Electric Association, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, FloridaWorks, Forest Landowners Association, Alachua County Legislative Delegation, Gainesville City Commissioners, North Central Florida Renewable Resource Conservation & Development Council, Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Florida Public Service Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Community Affairs, Florida Department of State, Florida Department of Transportation, North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, Suwannee River Water Management District, City of Gainesville, Alachua County and the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

 

 

6 Responses

  1. Harry Belafonte

    2010-12-10

    1

    There is no such thing as waste wood. It turns back into topsoil that feeds the next generation of trees - what a boondoggle project and a financial scam to rip-off ratepayers.

  2. Willie Watson

    2010-12-10

    2

    While more advanced states are taking steps to bring laws in line with science, poor ol' backward Florida thinks tree incineration is the way forward. Pitiful.

  3. robert

    2010-12-11

    3

    The naive politicians and people of Gainesville Florida should be building a community-owned plant. It should be a co-operative, not a private company. The same financiers could have the first right of refusal and if they weren't interested then the community should get 10 banks involved. They already qualify for a 30% CapEx loan guarantee, and with a 100MW plant that means $100 million. Keep your resources for yourselves, keep the profits in the community. Don't make the same mistakes we all let happen with the big Oil companies. It's about time for a change.

  4. Maria Minno

    2010-12-11

    4

    THIS IS NOT “GREEN” ENERGY! BIOMASS INCINERATION HAS UNACCEPTABLE HEALTH RISKS I do not want a biomass plant in Gainesville or anywhere nearby, because of unacceptable health risks. I live in Gainesville, my daughter has a farm in Gainesville, and I do not want to breathe the dioxins and toxins that the plant will spew. I do not want the toxins polluting my garden, and my food from our farm. I do not want anyone in my family, especially my children and grandchildren, to have to breathe that stuff. I do not want my friends or cats or my bakyard chickens to have to breathe it. I do not even want my enemies to have to breathe the dioxins and particulates that will be blowing all over Alachua County when this incinerator is built. Biomass incineration produces dioxins, which are some of the most toxic chemicals known. There is no known “safe” level of dioxins. Dioxins cause reproductive problems, birth defects, and cancer. They can travel a long distance, and persist in air, water and soil. Dioxins bioaccumulate in wildlife and in our food and water. http://www.epa.gov/safewater/pdfs/factsheets/soc/dioxin.pdf According to data taken from proposals and environmental statements of power producers, biomass generators are dirtier than coal. Biomass produces more carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and particulate matter than coal. http://www.energyjustice.net/files/biomass/biomassvscoal.pdf There is no known safe limit for emissions of particulates from biomass incineration. Furthermore, current regulations will not protect the public from the risk from existing and proposed facilities. Biomass plants produce copious amounts of fine particulate matter (PM2.5, with a diameter of 2.5 microns or smaller). These particles can remain suspended in the air for a long time because of their small size. http://cfpub2.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=87903 The U.S. EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, established under the Clean Air Act to provide scientific advice on setting air quality standards, states “there is clear and convincing scientific evidence that significant adverse human-health effects occur in response to short-term and chronic particulate matter exposures at and below 15 μg/m3, the level of the current annual PM2.5 standard.” (CASAC 2006). http://www.epa.gov/sab/pdf/casac-ltr-06-003.pdf Air pollution affects the growth of lung function during the period of rapid lung development between the ages of 10 and 18 years. (Gauderman et al., 2007) The Children’s Health study (CHS), which began in Southern California in 1993, included more than 6000 public school children. Many research papers emerging from this study have produced findings showing that exposure to air pollution has resulted in increased school absences, asthma exacerbation, and new-onset asthma. (Kunzli et al. 2003) Data from the American Cancer Society (ACS) cohort estimated that for each 10-μg/m3 increase in annual average exposure to PM2.5, long-term all-cause, cardiopulmonary, and lung cancer mortality were increased by approximately 4%, 6%, and 8%, respectively. The relationship between PM2.5 and adverse health effects was linear and without a discernible lower "safe" threshold. http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/109/21/2655 Data from all North American studies demonstrate that this curve is without a discernible threshold below which particulate matter concentrations pose no health risk to the general population. http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=58003 Because a number of studies have demonstrated associations between particulate air pollution and adverse cardiovascular effects even when levels of ambient PM2.5 were within current standards, even more stringent standards for PM2.5 should be strongly considered by the EPA. http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/109/21/2655 Therefore, there is no known safe limit for emissions of particulates from biomass incineration, and current regulations will not protect the public from the risk from existing and proposed facilities. Furthermore, leading medical associations and public health advocates oppose biomass incineration and are demanding an end to taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies for these facilities. The American Lung Association says: “The [American] Lung Association urges that the legislation not promote the combustion of biomass. Burning biomass could lead to significant increases in emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide and have severe impacts on the health of children, older adults, and people with lung diseases.” http://www.nobiomass.org/Documents/ALA_national_letter.pdf The Massachusetts Medical Society says: “Biomass power plants pose an unacceptable risk to the public’s health by increasing air pollution…The burning of biomass releases small particles into the air creating particulate air pollution. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated an association between elevated particulate air pollution levels and adverse health effects and death. Particulate air pollution is associated with increased cardiopulmonary symptoms, asthma attacks, days lost from work due to respiratory disease, emergency room visits, hospitalization rates, and mortality. “Biomass combustion also releases nitrogen oxides, which help create ozone, a highly reactive oxidant gas. Ozone reacts in the pulmonary airways causing symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, cough, wheeze, increased susceptibility to infection, declines in lung function, increases in asthma attacks, increases in asthma medication use, increased rates of emergency room visits for respiratory disease.” http://www.massmed.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search8&template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=33653 Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition says: “Of particular concern to the breast cancer community about [their biomass] plant is the release of toxic chemicals like dioxin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) into the air in communities already experiencing needlessly high rates of breast cancer.” http://www.springfieldincinerator.info/content_downloads/Mass%20Breast%20Cancer%20Coalition.doc The North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians says: “Biomass burning of … wood wastes creates emissions of particulate matter that research has shown increase the risk of premature death, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease. This burning process also creates numerous byproducts, including nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that increase smog and ozone, which are known to increase lung disease and mortality; sulfur dioxides which also contribute to respiratory disease; arsenic which can increase the risk of cancer; mercury which can increase the risk of brain and kidney disease and affect the developing fetus; and dioxins which may increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, developmental delays in children, neurotoxicity, and thyroid disease. “These health effects would increase disability and death in all age groups, but particularly in the most vulnerable—developing fetuses, newborns, children, those with chronic illness, and the elderly.” http://forums.e‐democracy.org/groups/mn‐politics/files/f/302‐2010‐0502T165944Z/Final%20Letter%20of%20Concern%20Regarding%20Biomass%20Burning.pdf The Florida Medical Association says: “The Florida Medical Association urges state government to adopt policies to minimize the approval and construction of new incinerators including mass-burn, gasification, plasma, pyrolysis, biomass, refuse-derived fuel and other incinerator technologies, and to develop a plan to retire existing outdated incinerators.” http://floridiansagainstincineratorsindisguise.com/2009/12/21/58/ DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN! It’s another big environmental health mistake, along the lines of the Koppers superfund site, only in this case the actual contract -- redacted so the public cannot see the maleficence being planned – between the corporation, Amercian Renewables and GRU, makes certain that the corporation will not be responsible for any health problems they cause with their incinerator. I wish the proponents of this fake "green" project knew a little bit more about environmental health, biology, ecology, and real economics, and I wish they cared a little bit more about health, the environment, and the people of Gainesville. Please, people, do not let this happen.

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