St. Lucie plasma biomass plant permit approved, possibly nation’s largest

A state air pollution permit has been issued to a proposed biomass electric plant in St. Lucie County, which could become the first of its kind in the nation and the largest in the world. Geoplasma St. Lucie LLC proposes building the plasma arc plant on nine acres at the St. Lucie County landfill.

Plasma arc technology was developed by NASA, according to Golder Associates. Plasma torches provide intense heat that break down waste materials into synthetic gas that can be burned to produce electricity. Two such plants have been operating in Japan since 2002 and another that uses hazardous waste opened in India in 2009, according to Mark Montemurro, CEO and president of Alter NRG. That’s the parent company of Westinghouse Plasma Corp., manufacturer of the proposed St. Lucie plant. At 24 megawatts of production, the plant could produce enough energy for more than 20,000 homes.

Gov. Charlie Crist and some environmental groups say new biomass plants can provide needed renewable energy for Florida, but such projects have been stalled by local opposition or economic challenges. The proposed St. Lucie plant will use 686 tons per day of garbage, tires, metallurgical coke and other wastes, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The permit application received support from the St. Lucie County Commission, the city of Port St. Lucie, Audubon of Florida and the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County.

But the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, a Southeast region environmental group based in North Carolina, last week raised several concerns in a letter to DEP. The group said the proposed permit contained a loophole that could allow hazardous wastes to be burned. The group also said the 14-day public comment period on the proposed permit provides a “serious” barrier to public participation and it asked DEP to extend the deadline.

Only the 14-day comment period was required because the plant is a considered a minor pollution source, a DEP spokeswoman said in response. Regarding the claimed loophole, DEP said the plant will be required to follow federal regulations requiring it to separate hazardous wastes from the garbage being used to produce energy. DEP signed the permit on Wednesday and distributed it publicly on Thursday. A Geoplasma St. Lucie LLC representative did not return a telephone call seeking comment and a timeline for construction.

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