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Nancy Smith

Renewables on Life Support: No Break for Biomass

February 16, 2017 - 11:15am

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 nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


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Comments

Because of the same laws I didn't start a wind and tidal generator factory which would employ over 100 people and save people lots of money while creating Florida jobs........................... Fact is solar gives especially Florida peak power when needed most from homes , businesses at low rates and demand when utilities need it most at high rates. Yet they call it a costs?.......................... But a new era is coming where people make their own power and disconnect from the grid...................... But let's remember Nancy you, others keep electing those making this and so many other ripoffs happen, republicans.

The big mess is the PSC and the stranglehold the Big Power companies have on all politicians through their powerful lobby and donations. Georgia has 10 times more solar power production than Florida. The Sunshine State! We are arguably poised to be the leader in solar power production, due to available sunlight, and biomass, yet are near, if not the bottom in terms of production. Why? CASH! The PSC and power companies threaten rate increases, which will be rubber stamp approved. Why? CASH! They are amongst the biggest political financial contributors and lobbyists. We could be working towards energy independence. The only things in the way are politics and cash...Those are the facts...classic.

If we get rid of "political pandering" and "Lobby expense "fishing" by 'former' politician panderers",... maybe we can 're-start' at "zero" and get something done... In the meantime REPLACE your pettifogging Congressional Representatives AND Senators if you EVER expect "change"!!!

Renewables would not survive if it were not for tax subsidies. If renewables are efficient, then they will survive and become the generator of choice. However, they are NOT the low cost option despite their claims to the contrary.

Biomass is a big mess. No one should wish it on their worst enemy. Ask the City of Gainesville.

Exactly. Gainesville regrets the biomass plant as it is hurting the POOREST residents by charging too much for electricity. And, burning biomass SMELLS. Biomass is hopeless for this area. Coal plants turned to biomass, yes, because coal is the worst. But in this area, if we can't do nuclear, we should go with solar. NO BIOMASS.

One way to save biomass is if the power could be marketed directly to large corporate or gov't ratepayers outside the utility's service areas. Gainesville's GREC power plant isn't owned by GRU, it's privately owned and sells power to GRU at a high rate (which is why GRU avoids using it). GREC should sell power to green-conscious companies with deep pockets who already invest heavily in renewables (Google, Apple, Amazon, etc).

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nancy smith

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