From: Christopher Sherman, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Published November 4, 2004 12:00 AM

Power Plant will Convert Florida Hurricane Debris into Electricity

Nov. 4—Nearly half the debris created by hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne in Polk County — storms that also left thousands in the dark — is being used to fuel a power-generating plant that sells electricity to Progress Energy.

Polk County is paying $1 per cubic yard of chipped wood to have Wheelabrator Ridge Energy convert the wood to electricity in its Ridge Generating Station.

If the debris were not consumed in the plant's boiler and converted to steam to power its turbine, it would most likely take up space in a county landfill.

The three storms left about 1.8 million cubic yards of debris in their wake.

The county estimated that debris cleanup would cost between $30 million and $35 million, with the federal government paying 90 percent.

"It was the most cost-effective measure available," Deputy County Manager Jim Freeman said.

If the material were not kept in Polk, the county would have to pay to transport it to ports in Cape Canaveral or West Palm Beach, Freeman said.

Freeman expected the generating plant to take the chipped remains of about 800,000 cubic yards, or about 45 percent of the county's storm debris.

Once chipped, Freeman estimated there would be about 200,000 cubic yards of wood going to energy production.

Debris is being chipped or stored at six locations around the county, Freeman said. The county hopes to shut down its debris-removal operation by Dec. 12. The county had urged residents to have the last of their debris to the curb by Monday.

Another 50 percent of the county's debris will go to landfills and the remaining 5 percent is being burned, he said.

Phil Tuohy, the plant's manager, said the plant, which started operating in 1994, uses waste wood almost exclusively for its power generation.

The hurricane debris just provided a bump in its supply.

Crowder-Gulf, the county's debris-removal firm, started bringing hurricane debris to the plant Oct. 1, but private haulers had been bringing debris since shortly after Hurricane Charley passed through Aug. 13.

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