Group opposes coal-fired power plant in Polk

10/03/07 Seán Kinane
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Tampa Electric Co. (TECO) is proposing a new 630-megawatt power plant at its Polk County power station that could come online by 2013.

The proposed plant, called the Polk 6 unit, would use a technology called Integrated Gas Combined Cycle (IGCC), a method which turns coal into gas.

Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in a phone conference today that his group will oppose the Polk 6 IGCC plant.

“It is an active proposal now before the Florida Public Service Commission. Next week, on October 10th, there will be several days of evidentiary hearings around the plant as it is proposed by TECO. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has intervened in that case and we are going to put on a case arguing that it is premature for the Utility Commission to allow TECO to get cost recovery and go forward on this plan.”

In July, Gov. Charlie Crist issued three executive orders aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Florida. Emissions must be cut by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050; there are other targets to be met sooner and power companies must produce at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

Smith said that building a new coal power plant is "180 degrees" from the requirements set forth by Crist because it would increase the amount of climate change pollution.

“We believe that this facility proposed by Tampa Electric is the first case and the first test for Florida’s commitment to reduce global warming pollution in the form of carbon dioxide gases. This plant is going to be a major emitter of CO2. We calculate that it will be in excess of 5.4-million tons annual CO2 emissions, very significant increase in the emissions. So we believe this is an important test of whether the Governor is serious, and DEP and all the administration is serious about making sure that we get on the right path to reducing global warming pollution.”

TECO claims that it would use carbon capture and sequestration technology at the Polk 6 plant to contain the carbon dioxide created by burning coal and sequestering it deep underground. But carbon capture and sequestration has never been attempted in Florida.

Smith said that Florida’s geology makes it uncertain whether the technology would work here. He said the carbon dioxide might escape back into the atmosphere. WMNF asked Smith whether sinkholes could result if carbon dioxide were sequestered in the deep saline aquifers under Florida’s limestone.

“That is certainly a possibility because as you know, as you put carbon dioxide into water it forms carbonic acid and that could impact it. What we’ve argued and continue to argue is that there are a number of unknowns about carbon capture and sequestration in the state of Florida.”

WMNF attempted to speak with geologists from the University of South Florida but they did not return our call by airtime.

Smith said there are some advantages to IGCC, such as lower emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury. But tons of carbon dioxide are still created by the burning of the gasified coal.

Another problem that the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has with the proposed plant is that energy efficiency programs should be implemented before new power plants are built.

“We believe that no generation technology should be built ‘til all cost-effective energy efficiency is identified and aggressively pursued. We feel that and we’ve argued that case before a number of utility commissions and we’ve supported it here in Florida that we want to make sure that all cost effective energy efficiency is fully exploited.

"In this particular case, we are concerned that Tampa Electric has not done that. And that they have not put forth an aggressive energy efficiency program and therefore are overestimating the need to build new generation,” Smith said.

The Florida Public Service Commission uses a Rate Impact Measure (RIM) screen to determine whether a certain type of energy efficiency program should be used by a utility.

“That screen has largely been disqualified in most other states because it screens out what experts feel is cost-effective energy efficiency because anytime there is a savings to the customer, the utilities under this test call it lost revenue and claim that it puts upward pressure on rates. Which is not fully accurate because there are a number of benefits that come both to the utility but primarily to the customer from investing in energy efficiency.”

Smith thinks that other screens would be more appropriate and result in greater energy efficiency.

“The first thing that we are calling for is that under the new [Crist] administration, that rate impact measure should not be the sole determinate. And we believe that when that is removed we will see the availability of a number of programs that utilities have looked at but then because of this screen, have dismissed because they claim that they’re not cost effective. That’s an inappropriate screen. There are other screens, like the total resource cost test screen, that we’re going to argue in our testimony next week, is a much more important test, more states use it, it shows greater support for customers.”

WMNF contacted TECO for comment, but the company did not respond by airtime.

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