House energy bill moves despite wood supply concerns

A House energy bill was passed Monday by a committee despite concerns about biomass energy raised by a pulp and paper industry representative.

HB 7229 allows utilities to recover $386 million from customers for 735 megawatts of renewable energy over the next three years. Chris Broome, general manager of the Smurfit-Stone container board mill in Panama City, said the bill would encourage the conversion of two coal-fired power plants within 60 miles of his plant. Rather than using simply waste wood, Broome said the new biomass plants encouraged by the bill could drive up the cost of wood supplies that are used to make paper, build homes or make other products.

Although the Florida Panhandle is in the middle of a “wood basket,” Smurfit-Stone faces competition from other paper mills for trees and the Green Circle Bio-Energy Inc. wood pellet plant in Cottondale, Broome said. “We’re in an extremely competitive industry,” Broome said. “We are competing not only against mills in other states but mills overseas.”

Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando and chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Committee, said committee members are discussing the issue with the industry. “It is not our intent to raise the prices of consumer products or put anybody out of business,” Precourt said.

The House Full Appropriations Council on Education & Economic Development approved the bill 14-0. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, and Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, indicated they would raise the issue on the House floor if the industry’s concerns are not address.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)