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Plan for $2B coal plant is quashed
Tampa Electric changes course amid concerns over carbon.
By ASJYLYN LODER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 5, 2007
"On a national basis, coal will be part of the energy mix," Tampa Electric president Chuck Black said. "If coal is part of the mix, then we believe (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) is the best way to use it."
[John Pendygraft | Times]
Tampa Electric shelved plans Thursday for a $2-billion power plant, the third coal plant in Florida since June to derail amid concerns about how to deal with gases believed to cause global warming.
Combined, the three canceled plants would have produced enough electricity to power 2-million houses, nearly a quarter of the homes in Florida. Their failure raises anew questions about how the state will balance its growing electricity needs against Gov. Charlie Crist's aggressive goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions and expand the state's use of renewable power.
Crist said Thursday evening that he was pleased with Tampa Electric's decision, if it means they will turn to a cleaner fuel than coal.
"I am not a fan of coal," he reiterated. He pointed to the expansion of nuclear power, as well as recently announced solar and biomass projects, as examples of clean, reliable, affordable energy.
"There's a lot of different ways to skin the cat and still provide the energy that Floridians need and deserve without harming Florida in the process," Crist said.
Tampa Electric's 630-megawatt plant would have emitted more than 4.1-million tons a year of carbon dioxide, the gas believed to be the primary contributor to climate change.
"This is the end of coal in Florida as we know it," celebrated Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a regional nonprofit that opposed the plant.
Tampa Electric president Chuck Black said the utility will have to find another way to keep the lights on even as demand for its energy increases by 150 megawatts a year.
Tampa Electric, the primary subsidiary of TECO Energy, has more than 666,000 customers, and a total capacity of 4,686 megawatts.
Renewable power produces just a tiny fraction of the state's electricity, Black pointed out, and conservation can't fulfill the need for more than 600 megawatts. More likely, the utility will have to turn to natural gas which, as a far more expensive fuel than coal, could lead to higher utility rates for area customers.
"We are going to be there when our customers need us," Black pledged. The utility will present a new plan to meet demand some time next year.
* * *
Tampa Electric's plans for a new coal plant, called Polk Six, involved a technology widely viewed as one of the cleanest coal technologies in the world. Called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, it emits far less acid rain and smog pollutants than traditional coal plants.
Many experts believe that it is also the best platform to capture carbon from coal, a cheap and abundant fuel. The carbon could then be pumped deep underground and stored forever. But storing carbon is expensive, and it's not clear that it will work in Florida.
Tampa Electric said repeatedly that it would capture and store carbon "if required." Although it isn't required yet, many states and the federal government have moved recently toward carbon regulations. Crist signed executive orders in July mandating steep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, and pushing utilities to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable energy sources.
But clear rules have yet to emerge, and that uncertainty made coal a risky investment, Black said.
"We understand that carbon regulation is part of the future, and greenhouse gas reduction is part of the future, at both the state and federal level," Black said.
Until those laws are written, and clear guidelines emerge, the utility decided to wait. But it hasn't given up on IGCC, Black said.
"On a national basis, coal will be part of the energy mix," he said. "If coal is part of the mix, then we believe IGCC is the best way to use it."
Crist said he might support coal, but only with carbon capture and storage. "If that technology can be proven effective, I'll try to keep an open mind."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Asjylyn Loder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 225-3117.
FAST FACTS: Plugs pulled
On June 5, the Public Service Commission voted 4-0 to deny a plan by Florida Power & Light to build a 1,960-megawatt coal-fired plant near Everglades National Park.
On July 3, under pressure from Gov. Charlie Crist, a group of Florida utilities pulled plans to build an 800-megawatt coal-fired plant in Taylor County.