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Progress Energy and a partner plan to build a biomass power plant.

Biomass Gas & Electric Co., an Atlanta-based alternative energy producer, confirmed Wednesday that it will partner with Progress Energy Florida to build one of the state's first, and possibly the largest, power plant that will convert wood waste into electricity.

The process takes untreated wood waste, untreated sawmill residue, municipal solid waste (including animal waste) and energy crops - collectively called biomass - and superheats the material. What's left is a synthetic natural gas that can be used as a direct substitute for fossil fuels used to produce energy.

BG&E officials said the Florida plant will generate about 75 megawatts of electricity a day, or enough to power about 75,000 homes, by 2011.

St. Petersburg-based Progress Energy has 14 power plants that produce about 9,000 megawatts of electricity for nearly 1.7-million customers. Most of those plants are fueled by oil, coal, gas and nuclear power.

But faced with rising costs for fossil fuels and environmental concerns, the company has begun to look elsewhere. Last fall, Progress Energy said it would spend $382-million to expand by 20 percent the capacity of its Crystal River nuclear plant. The company also is considering building a nuclear plant in neighboring Levy County.

Last spring, Progress Energy signed a long-term contract to buy electricity generated by Biomass Investment Group, which hopes to build a "green" power plant in Central Florida using a crop known as E-Grass that will generate enough to power about 83,000 homes.

A spokeswoman for Progress Energy would not comment on the wood-waste deal, which is expected to be announced by Gov. Charlie Crist today in Tallahassee. Neither company would say where the plant would be built - most likely in north Florida near an existing paper mill or waste wood plant - or at what cost.

But BG&E spokesman Harry Nolan called the plant "really huge.'' "The Progress Energy plant will be larger than the first two plants combined," he said.

The first of those two plants began last October, when Tallahassee contracted with BG&E to construct a $90-million plant in the city to convert wood waste to energy. The project, scheduled to go online in 2010, will make Tallahassee the first U.S. municipality to use the biomass technology to produce electric power.

And last month, BG&E partnered with Georgia Power to develop a similar facility in Forsyth County, Ga. The project will produce 25 megawatts of electricity starting in September, 2009. BG&E, which calls itself "Big Green Energy," is lead by CEO Glenn Farris.

Momentum has been building to find alternative energy resources.

On July 19, state leaders gathered at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort hotel for a Farm to Fuel biofuels summit. Among those attending were Crist and state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

In addition to his Climate Change summit in Miami a week earlier, Crist recently signed three executive orders meant to sharply reduce the state's dependence on foreign oil while cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.

During the Vinoy summit, Progress Energy Florida put out a request for renewables, asking any and all energy and fuel producers to come to them with their plans.

"We are continually looking for newer, cleaner ways to produce energy," said Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida.


Synthetic fuel

BG&E's process converts a feedstock, which is usually wood waste, agricultural byproducts, municipal solid waste (including animal waste) and energy crops, into a clean, synthetic natural gas that can be used as a direct substitute for any fossil fuel used in the production of energy. The process reduces the material used to about 1 percent of its original mass and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases by 98 percent when compared with a conventional fossil fuel plant.