Pamela Mincey: Gainesville making smart energy moves with biomass


Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 9:57 p.m.

Despite the overwhelming volume of science to support the human causes of global warming and climate change, there remains vocal opposition to efforts to act in the best interests of our community and our future.

Case in point is the vociferous criticism leveled against Gainesville Regional Utilities and its policy of moving away from fossil fuels to supply energy to the community, namely biomass.

The scientific community is on the side of renewable and sustainable energy sources: World renowned climate scientist James Hansen endorsed the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC, a.k.a. the biomass plant) and eminent climate activist Bill McKibben of 350.org is a strong advocate of the sustainability of biomass, just to name two.

Critics attempt to characterize biomass as being as bad as coal in CO2 emissions. The truth is that scientists and climate-change policymakers with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Food and Drug Administration, and Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center state carbon emissions from biomass power plants are cleaner than coal

Biomass is biogenic (comes from the biosphere) so the CO2 from biomass can be returned to nature where it belongs. In contrast, CO2 from fossil fuels such as coal is not biogenic and is overwhelming our planet.

Locally, critics attempt to erroneously compare GREC with other older biomass plants in other parts of the country with emissions that are unacceptable. The truth is GREC will have state-of-the-art emissions controls and will be regulated by EPA air pollution standards. GREC's pollution controls have twice been adapted exceeding even pending EPA standards, and thus is planned to be the cleanest biomass plant ever built. Furthermore, GREC is partnering with a local natural gas provider encouraging the truckers hauling biomass to GREC to convert their fleets from diesel to compressed natural gas.

The U.S. government measures our national security by two things: a strong military and a reliable power grid. The Department of Energy encourages communities to diversify energy sources rather than using a single source. GRU is diversified with its energy coming from a mix of coal, natural gas, methane, solar and (soon) biomass.

Our local utility and policymakers for the past 10 years should be commended for having the foresight and displaying the leadership to do these things: Diversifying our energy sources and moving more toward renewables such as the very first solar feed-in tariff program in North America and using existing locally produced biomass debris for energy generation. In the event of a major weather disaster, Gainesville has also developed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's "Community Resilience," a social benefit from developing local renewable power resources.

As the cost of climate disruption escalates, we will feel it economically from another direction: Insurance companies are preparing for the impacts to them in the face of increasing climate change. One local homeowner had insurance payments that increased 16 percent last year — $29 per month — more than exceeding claims by GREC opponents of an anticipated rate impact. Homeowners can expect even higher insurance rates with radical weather.

With two renewable, sustainable and biogenic energy sources, and natural gas backup, GRU customers remain independent consumers of energy. For one megawatt of renewable power, eight jobs are created in our area. That's good for the local economy and good for our environment.

Gainesville demonstrates that communities can make a difference in combating climate change.

Pamela Mincey lives in Gainesville.

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