Real people powering a clean energy future
Choose another profile:
Shift Manager, Green Circle Bio
Green Collar Employee, Cottondale, Florida
Despite having access to local bioenergy resources, many power plants in the southeastern United States continue to import dirty coal. In 2006, Southeast states spent more than $10 billion importing coal for electric power from outside the region, and even from other countries such as Colombia and Indonesia. For more information, click here. More »
Joe Perez says that he and his fellow workers at the Green Circle biomass facility in the Florida panhandle are making renewable energy history by working at the largest pellet mill plant in the world. The plant manufactures more than 70 tons of horse-pill-sized pellets an hour, filling 20 rail cars every day.
A New York City native who settled in Florida after leaving the military in the late 1990s, Perez, 48, says his previous work at a Georgia Pacific mill, which makes particle board for home construction, prepared him for his current job as a shift manager at Green Circle. The end product is different, "but pretty much the rest of the operation I've been involved with [before]," said Perez. "You definitely have to have people skills [to do my job]. Maybe some mechanical background or an electrical background, but the key is probably people skills."
Though 99 percent of the plant is automated, Green Circle has four teams of eight that work 12-hour shifts to ensure the plant runs smoothly around the clock. As a shift team leader, Perez manages the team members, who are responsible for a particular aspect of the pellet-making process. One employee, for example, oversees what Perez calls the scale house, where trucks drop off trees in various forms, including logs, bark and chips. Other members of Perez's team inspect and weigh the raw material; run debarkers, wood chippers, industrial dryers, hammer mills, pellet pressers and other heavy equipment; and operate the control room. The end product—pellets 8 millimeters thick and 16 millimeters long—are loaded on rail cars and taken to the port in Panama City, where they are shipped to Europe.
In the absence of federal or state policy support, there is currently little incentive to use Green Circle's product in the Southeast. But many European countries have made a commitment to lower their global warming emissions, creating a significant market for electric utilities to use more renewable energy. Green Circle's biomass pellets are "co-fired" with coal in power plants to generate electricity, directly displacing emissions from one of the largest sources of global warming pollution.
Although Green Circle is located an ocean away from its current primary market, the southern United States is a great place for a biomass plant, says Perez, because trees grow extremely quickly there. A strong national commitment to produce renewable energy would create an opportunity for Green Circle to sell its product locally, and perhaps even expand its operations, allowing Joe and his team to continue to make history.