Tampa Electric's bill stalls

Published April 26, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Funding for a $1.5-billion coal-gasification plant stalled Wednesday after the sponsor of a Senate bill submitted a sweeping, last-minute amendment critics fear could harm the environment.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, asked to postpone a vote on SB 1202, after Sen. Jim King warned lawmakers against bringing any late-filed amendments to the floor.

The original bill would enable Tampa Electric to charge consumers up front for a coal-gasification plant in Polk County. A similar bill already passed the House. Coal gasification enables power plants to siphon off harmful carbon emissions so they don't enter the atmosphere.

But Bennett's amendment would broaden the kinds of power plants that might meet the specifications of the bill. Critics fear it would pave the way for Florida Power & Light to get upfront funding for its controversial plant proposed near the Everglades.

"It came out of the woods," said King, R-Jacksonville. "There had been lots of consensus and then it just blew apart."

State law usually prohibits utilities from passing through costs of design, licensing and construction to customers until after a plant begins operations.

Though King said he shared his worries about the scope of the late amendment, Bennett denied anyone had talked with him about it. He told the Times he asked to postpone a vote simply because he wanted to bring a series of amendments instead.

Bennett was noncommittal about whether he would bring SB 1202 back up to the floor today or before the end of session.

"It's my intention to work out the language," he said. "And if the language gets worked out, then we'll bring the bill back up."

If he doesn't, the Tampa Electric-backed measure could be dead this year.