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Tampa Electric gets TV kudos

Coal-to-gas conversion at a Bayside facility was cited on Dateline NBC toshow how an EPA program improved air.

By LOUIS HAU
Published April 20, 2004

Beleaguered TECO Energy Inc. got a bit of positive publicity over the weekend - and on national TV no less.

On Sunday evening, Dateline NBC reported on TECO's flagship subsidiary, Tampa Electric Co., and its replacement of dirty, coal-fired generating units at a power station in Tampa in favor of cleaner-burning units that use natural gas.

Tampa Electric's coal-to-gas conversion at its Bayside facility was cited as an example of how the Environmental Protection Agency's "New Source Review" was working to improve air quality. The New Source Review used to require utilities to add modern pollution controls on aging power plants whenever improvements were made to keep them running.

The report featured the EPA's former air enforcement director, Bruce Buckheit, criticizing the Bush administration for relaxing the New Source Review's pollution-control requirement. Buckheit also praised Tampa Electric and its former president (now TECO executive vice president and chief operating officer) John Ramil for doing the right thing.

"I would say "Thank you, John Ramil,"' Buckheit said. "He's a man who's capable of thinking outside the box, looking down the road and doing what's right for his community."

Although the Dateline report gave Ramil the opportunity to boast that Tampa Electric's rates "have been stable," it didn't mention that the company charges the highest electricity rates among Florida investor-owned utilities. Nor did it refer to Tampa Electric's attempt to keep roughly $10.5-million in cost savings from completing the coal-to-gas conversion earlier than anticipated, rather than passing on savings to customers. In March, the Florida Public Service Commission voted to require Tampa Electric to pass on 80 percent of the cost savings to its ratepayers.

The Dateline report was more forthright about the important role that EPA pressure played in getting Tampa Electric to agree to the conversion.

"Maybe sometimes it was more of a nudge than we might have liked, but that's okay," Ramil said. "Things get done when you stretch people."

- Louis Hau can be reached at hau@sptimes.com or 813226-3404.

[Last modified April 20, 2004, 01:20:37]

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