Fueling Florida's Future

07/01/2007 02:00:00 AM

As fuel prices swell and such environmental issues as global warming and ozone pollution move to the forefront, Florida is preparing to play a major role in the effort to cut the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Tallahassee, set up the Florida Farm to Fuel Initiative last year in an attempt to break the nation’s oil addiction. According to a 2006 statute, the initiative aims to “enhance the market for and promote the production and distribution of renewable energy from Florida-grown crops, agricultural wastes and residues, and other biomass.”

The program looks not only to turn crop waste into usable energy, but it also could provide growers with the opportunity to grow crops to be used solely for fuel.

For now, Florida Farm to Fuel still is trying to gain support. Last year, the department held a “Farm to Fuel Summit” Aug. 30 through Sept. 1 in Orlando that was attended by nearly 400 people. The 2007 summit is scheduled for July 18-20 in St. Petersburg. Gov. Charlie Crist is scheduled as the keynote speaker of the event, where participants will attend sessions about the various types of biofuels, how to market ethanol and other energy-saving avenues for Florida producers.

“Before growers are convinced to put the crops in the ground, we need to have the processing facilities,” says Terence McElroy, a spokesman for the department. “The big push now is to get some of the major companies investing in biofuel processing facilities.”

When this article went to print, there were no ethanol production facilities in the state.

Florida Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson has said that Florida’s large amount of farm acreage and its mild climate make it a perfect place to grow crops for fuel year round.

In February, the state took a huge step toward facility production when it awarded eight organizations $15 million in grants to fund renewable energy technologies. At least $5 million was allotted to bioenergy projects, with the remaining money supporting the production and use of other renewable energy resources, such as hydrogen, solar energy, wind energy and hydroelectric power.

“The grant program creates a receptive, inspiring environment for research,” said Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp in a Florida Department of Environmental Protection news release. “Investments in cutting-edge ventures ensure a stronger economy and a cleaner environment for the next generation of Floridians.”

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