Rentech's Florida biomass power plant has final air permit

By Lisa Gibson | July 13, 2011

Following an event-free 30-day appeal window on its air permit, Rentech Inc. now has the final and nonappealable permit in place for its 55-megawatt biomass power plant proposed for Port St. Joe, Fla.

The final air permit was issued in June, but open to appeals for one month, according to Julie Dawoodjee, vice president of investor relations and communications for Rentech. Now all that’s left in the permitting process is a local development permit, she said. “We’re engaged in that process and don’t foresee it to be a significant hurdle to obtain that last remaining permit.”

While no appeals were filed against the air permit, a loud and well-known Massachusetts-based opposition group had filed a petition against the project, but withdrew it before the June air permit was issued and subsequently made no waves during the appeal window. “We did have a group that was fairly vocal, though it was not based locally,” Dawoodjee said, adding that the petition was withdrawn by the group with no stipulation of settlement or agreements between it and the developer, as is often the case. “Once they withdrew, there were no other petitions to be addressed.”

A timeline for construction and operation of the $225 million Port St. Joe Renewable Energy Center has not been established, as it’s predicated on financing, Dawoodjee said. The next major development step is construction, she added, which is the most expensive phase. “When we have a clear path to secure financing, we’ll have a more clear picture on when we would expect to break ground.”

The project was acquired earlier this year from developer Biomass Energy Holdings and was already intended to use the Rentech-SilvaGas biomass gasifier. Dawoodjee said after the acquisition that Rentech preferred to acquire the project instead of license its technology. The plant will use about 930 tons of forest residue per day, currently secured under letters of intent. Dawoodjee said Rentech will work with its feedstock suppliers to refine those letters into definitive agreements. The company has a power purchase agreement in place with Progress Energy of Florida.

“This is a really big deal to receive this final air permit, not only for this particular project … but also to demonstrate to the marketplace that it is possible to get a project permitted using the Rentech-SilvaGas gasifier (and) a turbine engine to produce baseload power,” Dawoodjee said. “It’s a big signal. It’s one thing to say it in theory, but it’s another to actually demonstrate it and point to the final air permit that we’ve received.”