Biomass power is carbon neutral electricity that is generated from biomass fuels. Biomass material consists of organic matter available on a recurring or renewable basis, such as trees and other woody plants. Biomass is one of the largest domestic sources of renewable electricity generation in the United States, providing over 10,000 MW of reliable, economical, and environmentally sustainable power.
Biomass energy is a renewable energy source since the energy contained in the organic materials comes from the sun. Through the process of photosynthesis, chlorophyll in plants captures the sun’s energy by converting carbon dioxide from the air and water from the ground into carbohydrates, complex compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. When these carbohydrates are burned, they turn back into carbon dioxide and water and release the sun’s energy they contain.
Biomass power has many advantages compared with other forms of renewable energy for the Southeast and is an important component of the region’s and our nation’s energy strategy.  Biomass power plants have operating characteristics that allow them to provide crucial baseload generation, meaning that they can provide power all the time when it is needed, not just when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.  In addition, biomass power plants in the Southeast are much more cost-effective than other renewable energy technologies.
The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) is a 100-MW net wood-fired biomass electric generating facility that has been constructed and is now commercially operational in Gainesville, Florida. Using advanced combustion technology, biomass materials are burned in a fluidized bed boiler under controlled, low emissions conditions to generate steam, which in turn drives a turbine/generator that converts the power into electricity. GREC will produce an annual average of 788,400 MWh, enough to power approximately 70,000 homes in the region with clean, renewable energy.
GREC is owned by Energy Management, Inc., BayCorp Holdings Ltd., and Starwood Energy Inc., as well as by certain principals of Fagen, Inc., the contractor that built the facility.  These companies have a long and successful track record of energy and power asset development and operation. Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) is purchasing all of the power, capacity and environmental attributes produced from GREC for a thirty-year period. GRU is the municipally-owned and operated electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunications utility which serves approximately 92,000 customers in the City of Gainesville and parts of the surrounding region.
The GREC site is located approximately 8 miles northwest of downtown Gainesville off of Highway 441 and is adjacent to an existing coal power generation facility. GREC has leased an approximately 131-acre parcel of land from the City of Gainesville under a long-term lease agreement.
GREC commenced full commercial operations in December, 2013.
Biomass energy facilities provide a range of environmental benefits, including cleaner air and lower carbon dioxide:
  • The air emissions from biomass plants are significantly lower compared to traditional fossil fuel plants, such as coal plants, which are displaced by biomass plants.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that electricity generated from coal produces about 50 times more SO2 emissions than biomass fuels and significantly more NOx emissions.
  • Biomass plants also produce far less particulate matter than would result from the alternative method of open burning the wood wastes.
  • In addition to reducing the particulate matter emissions in the region, GREC will significantly reduce dioxin emissions that regularly occur from the opening burning of wood wastes.
Biomass energy does not add new carbon to the active carbon cycle, unlike fossil fuels which remove carbon from geologic storage. In the absence of a biomass facility, a large portion of the biomass energy would be left to decompose naturally, be open-burned or landfilled. This would release carbon in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, which is between 20 and 25 times more potent as a greenhouse-gas than carbon dioxide.
Biomass energy plants make a substantial, positive impact on local and regional economies by generating well-paying, “green collar” jobs in the construction and operation of the plant, as well as the collection and transportation of biomass material. Based on an economic benefits analysis conducted for GREC, it is estimated that nearly 700 permanent jobs have been created throughout the region due to the operation of the project, in addition to the approximately 45 direct jobs at the plant. In addition, GREC is supporting local businesses and encouraging investment in surrounding communities. The dollars spent on GREC’s biomass fuel stay in the local, state and regional economies since GREC is primarily utilizing fuel sources that are within a 75-mile radius of the plant. GREC is also increasing the local tax base.
GREC is using a variety of clean, renewable biomass materials, including:
  • Forestry residues and other products (slash and cull trees, pre-commercial thinnings, and whole-tree chips)
  • Urban wood residue (wood and brush from clearing activities, tree trimmings from right-of-way maintenance)
  • Wood processing residue (round-offs, end cuts, saw dust, shavings, reject lumber)
  • Other wood waste (unusable wood pallets, storm/infested woody debris)
The project requires approximately one million green tons of fuel annually, sourced primarily within a 75-mile radius of the project site.
Forest stewardship is an important part of GREC’s fuel-sourcing goals. GREC is complying with the FL Division of Forestry Best Management Practices, and has agreed to additional standards to foster improved nutrient retention and overall forest health. GRU has implemented a forest stewardship incentive program in which biomass growers will receive a bonus payment for going above and beyond the prevailing forestry practices. GREC and GRU believe that healthy forests benefit us all.
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