Debates about our clean energy future always come around to the glass half-full or half-empty idiom. When we contemplate changing markets, expansion of renewable technologies, and other uncertainties, some folks just have a hard time imagining anything other than the half-empty scenarios.
A new report by the University of Florida was recently released on the economic and supply implications of utilizing woody biomass in Florida. The report provides a useful look at how a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in Florida can be done (despite using ridiculously low numbers for solar and wind energy potential). Amazingly, in estimating Florida’s biomass potential the study is ambitious (much more than we were). What’s most interesting, though, is that the report is being used to cast doubt on a state RPS.
I found the study refreshing in its emphasis on the need to improve management of forestlands in order to grow more wood.
“With increased reforestation, afforestation and planting of high-yielding short rotation woody crops … a 12% and higher RPS could be achieved without depletion of the forest resources of the state, or significant impacts to the existing forest industries.” (Page 2.)
The report also makes it clear to policymakers that Florida’s forests aren’t going to magically become more productive overnight. Policies are needed to stimulate the new growth:
“Any clean portfolio standard or RPS mandate should also incentivize tree planting including short rotation energy crops…” (Page 2.)
The basic problem with opposition to a state RPS is that it is economically self-defeating. Due to market trends, much of the biomass will be consumed one way or another. In fact, much of it is already being exported to Europe as result of their greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy goals. Since May of 2008, Florida has exported nearly a million tons of wood pellets to be turned into electricity in Europe. I’ve heard some authorities project growth in pellet production as high as 4 to 5 million tons per year from Florida alone! With a strong RPS, these pellets could help Florida reduce imports of fossil energy.
Left: Barge loaded with wood pellets. Right: Barge loaded with coal.
Am I the only one who sees the folly of a state importing more than $1.6 billion in coal each year, while exporting biomass pellets? This means Florida is shipping our clean energy resources abroad, while importing toxic, dangerous, mercury-poisoning coal.
For those who say “we can’t do a RPS in Florida because we don’t have enough biomass,” I urge you to take a look at this crazy import-export equation.
An RPS in Florida will begin to turn that crazy equation around. Investing in homegrown renewable energy (like biomass, solar, and wind) will decrease the need for coal and natural gas expenditures, create in-state jobs, generate local economic benefits and keep more of that money re-circulating among Floridians and Florida businesses. Let’s get to work rebuilding our economy! Pass that RPS, Tallahassee!