CORRECTED TO FIX COST OF SOLAR: Unfair pricing and the absence of a free market for all of Florida's renewable electricity generation have biomass technologies in a steep decline.
It doesn't seem right. Biomass energy production is being bullied in Florida, or so it seems. Why?
There's plenty of biomass, landfill gas and waste-to-energy materials -- enough to power many thousands of homes. It isn't a project on a drawing board like solar, industry spokesmen told Rep. Kathleen Peters' House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee on Wednesday, it's here and now. Yet renewable biomass "sits on the sidelines" because it isn't economically viable for cities, counties -- in fact, for any investor -- to build or expand facilities when they're losing money -- even if it's through no fault of their own.
And the bottom line: There is no plan, no legislation yet filed to address the ills of these investor- and municipally owned facilities.
For the subcommittee it was a workshop mostly to acquaint 10 of Rep. Peters' freshmen members with the current state of the renewable energy market.
"Florida wants diversification and we offer it," said Apex Power Corp.'s Michael Bedley in his presentation. Bedley said 2-3 percent of all Apex's energy for the state of Florida comes from renewables, and 90 percent of that is from biomass. "We use the stuff that otherwise would go to landfills. ... We're 10 times more economical than fossil fuels that mostly have to be piped in, and 85 percent of the money spent on biomass technologies in Florida goes back into the economy to create jobs."
But, he said, "There is no free market in the electricity sector in Florida. We can't sell to other entities." The state, through the Public Service Commission regulatory system, controls the rates, wholesale price and generation.
Those are obstacles that need to go.
"The result is an artificially suppressed price paid to renewable energy facilities," he said. "In other words, they're not capturing the value of renewable energy, they're capturing the value of a common kilowatt hour." The cost of generation for biomass is $76 per MWh or 82 percent of the retail rate on generation; solar renewables are $507 per MWh.
Solar, meanwhile, is expanded by Florida Power & Light and Gulf Power, which sets its pricing. FPL has plans for four new solar units in 2017 each big enough to power 15,000 homes. In an exchange for a rate hike, the utility agreed last year to build 1,200 megawatts of solar over the next four years.
Why should incinerator operators have rates set by the PSC that are so prohibitive some have shut down?
Johanna Faddis, Miami-Dade County's resources recovery administrator, said her county's waste-to-energy system lost $75 million in revenue since 2013 when its energy contract expired for the sale of power. And when that happened, Miami-Dade residents saw an increase in their tipping fees to make up for the loss. "Our facility has been going since 1982," Faddis said. "In that time we've avoided more than 30 million tons going into landfills. That's the equivalent of filling the Magic Kingdom with garbage over 24 stories high."
Faddis said state law ties Miami-Dade's hands. She suggested local governments be allowed to "net meter" their power, and then the utilities would have to buy it back. But FPL countered if that happens, they would have to set a rate increase.
Biomass is an important part of the energy diversity this nation seeks. If other states can make these technologies work, surely Florida can craft a bill to help level the playing field.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith
READ MORE FROM SUNSHINE STATE NEWS