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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

A local biomass power project held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for a site that will host a 100-megawatt plant.

More than 100 people attended the ceremony for the project, known as the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, according to a GREC press release.

Notable guests included Mayor Craig Lowe, former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan and Gainesville Regional Utilities General Manager Bob Hunzinger.

Clean wood waste, which includes limbs from harvested trees and lumber mill operations' residue, will fuel the biomass plant, according to the press release.

GRU has a 30-year contract with GREC in which the utility company will purchase the electricity produced by the future plant.

The partnership will increase reliability for GRU customers, GRU spokesperson Kim Jamerson said.

About two-thirds of GRU's fuel is provided by coal, while one-quarter of it comes from natural gas. Other kinds of energy are also used.

By adding power from the biomass plant to its repertoire, GRU will be able to be more flexible in making cost-effective decisions about the kinds of fuel it uses in various cases, she said.

The partnership will also provide more price stability and cost savings for customers. Although renewable energy typically costs more than some alternative fuel forms in the short term, the biomass plant is projected to be less expensive in the long run.

Josh Levine, vice president of project development for GREC, said one of the most important parts of the project is its economic impact.

There are about 235 employees working on-site to build the plant now.

A year to a year-and-a-half from now, that number will grow to 900, Levine said.

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Since March, 115,000 man-hours have already been contributed to the project.

When the plant is completed, about a million man-hours will have been spent on it.

"We are creating and keeping jobs in this area," he said. "As we are creating jobs in a depressed economy, it's a big accomplishment."

At the ceremony, GREC President Jim Gordon said that, once operational, the project would spend about $30 million a year on wood from local foresters. This should help the forestry industry and its workers in these tough economic times, Gordon said.

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