County pledges $500,000 toward new biofuel plant
Lee County is now in the biodiesel fuel business.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to help fund the construction of a biodiesel processing plant by pledging $500,000 to Florida BioFuels LLC.
The plant, which has no site or start date for construction, would have Lee County as its first customer under an agreement that would supply biofuel to the county for three years with a two-year renewal option.
The plant would use recycled grease from restaurants, as well as vegetable oil, poultry oil and oil from plant sources like Jatropha Curcus, which would then be converted into fuel.
Commissioners were divided on whether spending the $500,00 was a smart move.
County staff indicated that the money would be refunded following the influx of $3.2 million in stimulus funds.
Stimulus funds could take from 6-18 months to become available, with a maximum of three years, prompting Commissioner Frank Mann to hesitate on committing to the project.
“No one is against building alternative sources of fuel,” he said. “But I don’t think the county should be in the business of fuel production.”
Mann pointed out that biodiesel fuel is available for purchase from the county’s current fuel supplier.
This moved Chairman Ray Judah to suggest that the plant would not only save the county money on large-scale purchases of biodiesel fuel, but also put the county at the forefront of alternative fuel production.
“To me, it’s a win-win (situation),” he said. “It’s a way to look at waste as a resource … it’s a huge message we send to the world.”
Representatives from Florida BioFuels told commissioners Tuesday that they are within 12 months of producing their first batch of biodiesel fuel.
The three-year agreement between Florida BioFuels and Lee County would not kick in until the first batch is produced. The deal also defers impact fees for Florida BioFuel up to $25,000 for up to five years.
Commissioner Brian Bigelow was concerned the recent FBI e-mail inquiry of county employees, which contains “biodiesel” as one of the search’s key words, would put the board’s investment in Florida BioFuels in a bad light.
The county has only a handful of hybridized vehicles in its fleet, and no vehicles run only on biodiesel.
The vote passed with Bigelow and Commissioner Bob Janes dissenting.