Nobody loves biomass. When talk turns to global warming and the green movement, it's hardly ever mentioned. Biomass can be garbage (literally) or wood chips or sugar-cane remnants or grass.
Still, among energy experts, biomass has some strong supporters, and for good reason: Right now, virtually all the renewable-energy power in Florida comes from biomass, including three plants in Miami-Dade and Broward.
What's more, it's cheap – cheaper in some instances even than coal, which is generally considered the nation's least expensive way of producing electricity but is also the biggest producer of greenhouse gases that scientists say are heating up the globe.
"We're very strong supporters of biomass," says Stephen Smith, head of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "In the short run, it will be a real workhorse." But he adds: "There are various shades of green in biomass. Some is better than others."
As policymakers search for alternatives to fossil fuels that threaten to submerge South Florida under the sea, biomass has emerged as a leading possibility, much more plausible than wind in the state, but it comes with strong pluses and minuses.
Big business has gotten involved. Leading biomass producers – including the multimillionaire Fanjul family with an electric plant burning sugar-cane leftovers – have joined the push to require utilities to use more renewables and pay proper rates for them, which would mean the businesses could get decent revenue by expanding operations.
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