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News Story
Updated: 01/10/2013 08:00:02AM

EcoGen aims for spring

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By BRIAN ACKLEY

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The president of U.S. EcoGen says it still has three major hurdles to clear before a proposed biomass energy plant can be built in Fort Meade, but that he remains very confident the plan will come to fruition perhaps as early as this spring.

Bill Quinn said last week that the project, which would convert eucalyptus wood into electricity, is still very much on target to happen, even though company officials said originally they hoped to break ground on the plant north of Fort Meade last April.

“Absolutely. I’m very, very confident. We’re going to build this facility, there’s no question about it.” Quinn said. “I know that’s the million dollar question in Fort Meade. It’s just getting the final pieces in place and until we can get those pieces in place, we really can’t set a date to close and initiate construction.”

Quinn said the three major items that need to be resolved are the interconnection details with Progress Energy, who has agreed to buy the electricity produced, details surrounding an upgrade of the railroad connections to the site, and the project’s overall financing.

“The financing we’re making very good progress on. We’ve got two very good, very large partners going through the documents,” Quinn said.

The plant has been estimated to cost between $250 and $350 million. If built, city officials said it would likely double the city’s tax base by itself.

Quinn said the deal shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the complex nature of the project.

“I think at one point I counted up 30 different counter parties, 30 different entities we have to deal with in one way,” Quinn said. “So the fact that our punch list is down to a handful right now is very good news.”

Fort Meade officials have continued to work both behind the scenes and continue to hope U.S. EcoGen will build.

U.S. EcoGen has contracts on more than 1,100 acres of land that the city annexed into its boundaries last year. The plant itself would cover only a small portion of that, and some of the land would be used to grow the eucalyptus trees.

Although they are yet to break ground on its proposed facility, U.S. EcoGen is also forging ahead with plans for additional plants in other parts of the state.

Florida Power and Light is asking state regulators to approve a proposal that would eventually lead to the utility buying electricity from renewable-energy plants in Clay, Martin and Okeechobee.

In late December, FPL filed documents with the state PSC to seek contract approval with subsidiaries of U.S. EcoGen, LLC. The documents indicate that FPL would buy energy produced at three U.S. EcoGen plants.

The documents indicate U.S. EcoGen would start delivering energy in 2019 or before. They do not detail the type of biomass that would be used.

Thomas Hartman, a director of business management for FPL, said in one of the documents that the proposal would help diversify the sources of energy for FPL, which relies heavily on natural gas.

In written testimony, Hartman said the contracts would “increase fuel diversity and fuel supply reliability, reduce reliance on fossil fuels in the production of electricity and add renewable generation on FPL’s system.”

U.S. EcoGen’s current contract with Progress Energy called for electricity to start flowing in 2014.

(News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)




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