Agreement reached with Florida biomass plant opponents

By Lisa Gibson | March 14, 2011

A settlement agreement reached between seven opponents of a biomass power plant in Florida and developer American Renewables will allow construction to procede as scheduled. The development timeline of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center is crucial in receiving tax credits that will mean savings for ratepayers.

The seven opponents have each individually appealed at least one of three required permits for the 100-megawatt project: a need determination permit; an air permit; and a site certification permit, according to Josh Levine, Gainesville Renewable Energy Center project manager. The opponents recently issued motions of voluntary dismissal on all of their appeals on the grounds that American Renewables will carry out certain measures at its energy center. All but the needs determination appeal have been dismissed by the court, according to Levine. “We’re still waiting for that case to be dismissed,” he said. “There’s no drama or suspense to it. It will be dropped because all parties requested it be dropped.”

The agreement stipulates additional oversight of the plant during construction and operation; more stringent emission limits not required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; additional testing; easier public access to data; and additional oversight allowing the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department to conduct sight visits. “They already have that right,” Levine clarified of the last measure. “We just made it a little more formal.”

Although the complaints of the opposition were concluded to be unfounded, the residents have the legal right to appeal, Levine said. He added that American Renewables’ decision to reach a settlement was not because of concern over permit issuance, but instead was to ensure the project timeline remained similar. “What we are really getting in this agreement is finality in the appeals,” he said. In order for the project to receive the federal production tax credit, it must be operational by Dec. 31, 2013. Over 30 years, the credit will bring a savings of almost $200 million that will be passed along to the ratepayers, Levine said.

American Renewables will build, own and operate the GREC facility and will sell all electricity and environmental attributes generated from it to Gainesville Regional Utilities, the municipally owned utility that serves the Gainesville community, under a 30-year power purchase agreement. The biomass plant will use a variety of clean, renewable biomass materials, including forestry residues and other wood processing residue, urban wood residue and other wood waste.

The company expects to complete its financing in the next couple months and begin construction in late spring or early summer. “It’s a very good thing that the appeals are done and the project can finally move on,” he said.