TECO defends conversion of Big Bend plant to gas despite calls for more solar instead

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TECO power plant in Apollo Beach Florida burns coal and releases water vapor plus greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that contribute to climate change
TECO coal-burning power plant in Apollo Beach, Florida. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (Jan. 2010).

Tampa Electric Company plans to spend millions to upgrade its Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach to rely less on coal. But environmentalists say that instead of investing in infrastructure for fossil fuels – like natural gas produced largely by fracking — the company should instead switch to solar power generation.

During public comment at the Hillsborough County Commission meeting Thursday, Sierra Club lawyer Diana Csank said TECO’s plan would be “profoundly unwise” and she took issue with the assessment that there would be no financial impact on the county.

“There’s no analysis provided to you, Commissioners, or to the public on how that conclusion was reached. And furthermore, it’s completely contrary to common sense.

“As you’ve heard – and imagine well know – Tampa Electric is a public utility. Meaning when they build new power plants they’re using public money. And the fuel? That’s passed on dollar for dollar to the customers.

“And what you saw just last Tuesday was the company filing, in Tallahassee with the Public Service Commission, a 4% rate hike to go into effect in April because of gas prices. And they can’t tell you what gas prices will be ten years from now, let alone 30 years from now. And they want this plant, in theory, to operate for 30 years.”

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Csank suggested to the Commission that one clean alternative would be more electricity generation from solar power like is happening in other regions of Florida.

TECO senior vice president Tom Hernandez said the company is adding more solar power generation, but they still need to upgrade the Big Bend plant in part because solar doesn’t deliver energy when it’s needed most.

“The affordability and the availability of these technologies are at the point where we’re now deploying. Three years ago if you would have told me that Tampa Electric would invest $900 million over a three-and-a-half year period to put in 600 Megawatts of solar, I would have said, ‘No way.’ We’re doing it.

“We worked with the Public Service Commission. We have the ability to recover costs. We did it in a way that we’re minimizing the impact to our customers. And are we getting cleaner and greener? Absolutely.

“And by a fate of the Trump administration – that’s all I’ll say – but the tax reform that was implemented. We have put 400 Megawatts of solar and displaced significant natural gas and coal. And your rates went down. So it’s a combination of the cost components associated with burning fossil plant going down – tax reform helping to make that go down – offsetting, more than offsetting the capital costs to put the 400 Megawatts of solar.

“I will tell you if we were not doing the Big Bend [Power Station] modernization project we could not add more solar to our system. There’s a point where you start bumping up into operating constraints. And we could no longer maintain the grid stability or reliability of an asset that is inadvertent.”

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Here’s a link to the County Commission background information about this agenda item.

 

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