$185M alternative-energy facility planned


Herald Staff Writers

MANATEE — An alternative energy project planned for the area near Port Manatee could bring as many as 25 permanent jobs and 150 construction jobs, company officials said.

The $185 million project, announced Tuesday by FB Energy of Bradenton, would involve a 60-megawatt electric generation facility that would use biomass, or plant material, to generate power, according to a news release from the company.

Construction could begin as early as December at the 53-acre site, near Port Manatee in a specialized encouragement zone developed by members of the Port Authority and Manatee County Commission to attract new industry.

The facility could be operating by 2012 and would sell its power to Progress Energy for distribution, company officials said.

The power plant, planned near the intersection of U.S. 41 and Armstrong Road, just south of Buckeye Road, must first receive planning and county approval, said Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash.

FB Energy will meet with the county’s planning department Thursday, before seeking the Board of Commissioners’ approval Tuesday.

McClash said he is encouraged by the company’s announcement, but wants to see more details about the amount of pollution such a plant would create — particularly since Manatee County was among six counties that were recently designated as non-attainment areas for ozone levels by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“I think it’s something that has the possibility of being a benefit if it cannot have a negative effect on our air quality,” McClash said. “They’re basically burning wood, and they didn’t have the specific information that typically is associated with a power plant. My focus will be on not increasing the air pollution in this region when there are other places they could put this facility.”

Rick Jensen, president of FB Energy, said the project would bring in wood products such as clean wood chips to use as a clean coal substitute at the facility.

“We looked at Manatee County mainly because from a siting standpoint it had the right mix of opportunities, with the port being one of those opportunities,” Jensen said.

FB Energy would use Port Manatee to bring in clean wood chips. In addition, Jensen said he is talking with some local businesses in Bradenton and Sarasota that could provide wood product for the facility.

Jensen estimates the project would have the capacity to power about 45,000 homes and could have the potential to serve commercial customers.

Jensen said FB Energy agreed to a 20-year contract with Progress Energy, which will distribute the power to customers.

A Progress Energy spokesman declined to comment on the project.

Nancy Engel, vice president of the Manatee Economic Development Council, said the job creation as a result of the project comes at a much-needed time for the area that in February had an 11.1 percent unemployment rate, the highest level in more than two and a half decades.

“We are thrilled to welcome projects such as this to our community during this critical time, bringing much needed jobs and investment to our region,” Engel said.