Sierra Club says TECO plant conversion to gas would be “generational betrayal”

TECO CO2 emissions / climate change

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Next month the Florida Cabinet will consider granting approval to Tampa Electric Company to convert part of its Apollo Beach electric plant from coal to methane gas. But groups like the Sierra Club, Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay and Organize Florida oppose converting to gas and think TECO should convert to solar energy generation instead. They’re organizing a rally in downtown Tampa this Saturday.

The rally is at Gaslight Square Park, 410 North Franklin Street in downtown Tampa from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. on Saturday.

WMNF interviewed Kent Bailey, chair of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club.

“The plan TECO has brought forward is to replace an aging coal fired plant with a new gas fired plant, which, of course, will be running on fracked gas. This will be a very large plant.

“They have put out a press release that said by 2023 they’ll be burning almost no coal, which has caused people in Apollo Beach to believe that they’re going to be spared the pollution from Big Bend that has plagued them for so long, both in terms of ash on their cars and patios, but also damage to their lungs and so forth.

“What TECO didn’t say is that, the reason that they’ll be burning so little coal in 2023, is because Big Bend units 3 and 4, which burn coal also, will be temporarily off line to be refurbished and upgraded. But then they’ll be brought back and continue to burn coal. And if you look at the 10-year plan filed by TECO with the Florida Public Service Commission, you can see that in 2028, their coal burning will exceed the coal that they plan to burn for 2019.

“They’re not going to be burning less coal long-term. Only while they’re refurbishing these plants. Then they’re going to be burning more coal.

“The fracked gas plant is a 30-year commitment to burning fossil fuels. The reality is we have only 10 to 12 years before we have to reduce our reliance on carbon fuels by about 40 to 50%, or else we will, most certainly, be crossing over to a tipping point that plunges us down a path of unknown, unknowable, possibly unsurvivable environmental consequences. We are simply out of time.

“The idea of spending nearly a billion dollars to build another fossil fuel plant that will run through 30 years, at a time when we need to be stopping the fossil fuels and moving into renewable energy.

“It’s a bad deal for the rate payers. It’s bad for the environment. It will rely on a fuel that is going to certainly be more expensive in the future.

“For folks who don’t know, there was no fracked gas before 2005. It was made possible by exemptions to clean air, clean water, and safe drinking water bills. The ‘Cheney energy bill,’ the ‘Halliburton loophole,’ when that was passed, people didn’t know about the earthquakes. They didn’t realize that their faucets were going to be catching on fire. Those exemptions are going to be removed, and when they are, and when the gas and oil companies are brought under regulations that make the processes safe, fracked gas is going to be much less affordable. The cost of the fuel for that plant is going to skyrocket.

“And by the way, TECO doesn’t pay that cost. If you look at your electric bill, the fuel is a separate line. So, it’s not a risk to TECO. But is it very much a risk to the rate payers.”

SK: You prefer a solar alternative. Would solar be able to make peak demand? And how do you account for using energy at night if TECO goes to more solar?

“Florida Power and Light is building the world’s largest solar powered battery bank, just 40 miles from Apollo Beach, just down the road from there. They’re doing this and (they) say that by doing so they’re going to save the rate payers a hundred million dollars.

“Now TECO says that solar plus batteries isn’t cost effective. Somehow or other, the idea that Florida Power and Light can deploy solar battery and save a hundred million dollars. But TECO says it’s not cost effective, just doesn’t make any sense.

“Now, we don’t make a transition like this overnight. It’s going to take many, many years to site and bring online necessary solar panels. But, it’s a direction we can go, instead of going one more step further down a dead-end fossil fuel road.”

SK: What are the details of your rally this Saturday?

“We will be meeting at 6:00 p.m. at Gaslight Park, which is in Downtown Tampa. It is worth noting that parking is free north of Kennedy Boulevard on the weekends.

“The reason we want people to be there is because, at this point, the only way we can stop this gas-fired plant from going forward, is with political pressure. We need to demonstrate to the Governor and the Cabinet, who will be making the decision on this in late July, that the people of Tampa Bay are absolutely opposed to it.

“I realize that most of the listeners of WMNF are deeply concerned about the environment. I imagine most of them recycle. They do what they can to conserve energy and to save water. But the reality is that this is just not enough.

“We have to stop TECO’s plan and we have to stop it by showing up. Otherwise, our grandchildren face a future that is going to be so remarkably different from what we have known. It is a generational betrayal for us to act as if doing everything we can to immediately transition to renewable energy is optional. We have no choice in this. This is something we have to commit to.”

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