Huge Florida biomass plant up for Cabinet vote

Conceptual rendering of American Renewables proposed plant in Gainesville

A proposed woody biomass electric plant that would be one of the largest of its kind in the nation could move a step closer to reality with a Cabinet vote on Tuesday.

American Renewables and the city of Gainesville are proposing the 100-megawatt biomass plant on 131 acres at the city’s Deerhaven power plant. The plant would burn 1 million tons per year of mostly waste wood to create enough electricity to power 70,000 homes, according to the company.

Gov. Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson have encouraged the development of biomass energy. But proposed projects around the state have faced stubborn local opposition and legal challenges, causing plans for some to be delayed or scrapped. The proposed vote Tuesday comes just weeks before Crist and the three Cabinet members will leave office.

Supporters say the proposed Gainesville Renewable Energy Center will produce jobs and renewable energy without contributing to climate change. The proposed plant has received support from Bronson, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Columbia University climate scientist James Hansen, Republican Sen. Steve Oelrich and former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith, both of Gainesville.

The plant would be the largest in the nation, tied with a facility under construction near Sacul, Texas, said Josh Levine, director of project development at American Renewables in Boston. He said the Gainesville plant actually will reduce pollution by using limbs and leftover waste wood now burned in the open without emissions controls as part of timber operations. And he said the plant will help create more than 700 jobs in the region, including 44 at the plant.

“In addition to being renewable energy projects, they [biomass plants] are economic development projects,” Levine said.

But some environmentalists have raised concerns about pollution and the impact on forests around Gainesville, and the local NAACP chapter has raised concerns about the size and cost of the plant. Twenty-one people have signed up to speak at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Several leading opponents in Gainesville could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The Cabinet will consider Administrative Law Judge Robert E. Meale’s recommendation that a power plant construction and operating certificate be issued. The company still must receive a state air pollution permit, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is awaiting a recommendation from Meale on a separate legal challenge to a proposed permit.

(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