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Incinerator plans dealt a setback

A federal agency dealt a mild setback Wednesday to Pinellas County'splans to build a second trash-burning plant at the waste management center in Pinellas Park.

The refusal by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Wednesday to grant a waiver to the county can't derail the plans but could make them more expensive.

The county had asked FERC to approve a waiver from a law that discourages construction of a power plant within a mile of another one.

The waiver would have let the county negotiate more lucrative contracts with Florida Power Corp. and could have helped the county get lower interest rates as it borrows construction money.

County officials said they might appeal the FERC decision, but said the denial probably would not seriously affect the county's plans.

"It really only deals with the economics of how the county can get the best deal," said Fred Marquis, county administrator. "This has nothing to do with whether you do or do not build the plant at that site. It has no bearing on whether or not the project gets done."

County officials said they did not know how much - if any - the ruling would cost the county. They will be analyzing the ruling and plan to discuss it with the County Commission.

Bob Van Deman, the head of solid waste management, said the county probably will file a motion that will make an appeal possible.

The ruling appeared to be a boost to Pinellas Park officials, who are trying to stop the second plant.

But City Manager Ron Forbes said he wasn't sure how much it helped. "We're pleased they took the action they took," Forbes said. "We're trying to assess what is the real meaning of the action."

The city wants the second plant built in North Pinellas.

Trash burned at the plant generates electricity that is sold to the utility for about $1-million per month. The plant burns up 3,150 tons of trash every day.

The county would like to expand capacity by about 50 percent in the next few years. Ultimately, capacity may be doubled.

The county has more hurdles before construction can begin. It needs approval from state and federal agencies. That process costs $25,000 in application fees and can take as long as 14 months.

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