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TECO working to phase out coal power at Big Bend power plant, switch to natural gas

TECO plans to transition from coal to natural gas
Big Bend power plant at Apollo Beach.
Posted at 10:47 PM, Mar 11, 2019

How people in Tampa get their power could be changing drastically if a regulatory agency and the governor approve a significant upgrade to Tampa’s Big Bend power plant.

In 2016, A Canadian company, Emera, acquired Tampa Electric. Since then, the company saysit has worked to focus on cleaner and more renewable energy.

“We are going at a good pace and believe in the promise of renewable energy,” Cherie Jacobs, a spokesperson for Tampa Electric said. “In 2021, we’ll have seven percent of our energy coming from the sun. That’s the highest percentage of any utility in Florida.”

TECO said the modernization of Big Bend would include retiring unit 2 and upgrading unit 1 to a state of the art natural gas combined cycle technology. Currently, units 3 and 4 will continue to generate power using coal. At some point, the plan is to eliminate the use of coal.

Environmental groups told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska switching to natural gas is not the best option.

“Why would we want to build a plant that will put more carbon into the air rather than going with renewables like wind power and solar power,” Steven Murphy said. Murphy is with the Manatee County Clean Energy Alliance, a group of citizens that want to combat climate change and rising sea levels.

Murphy and more than 100 others packed a public hearing on the proposed upgrade to the Big Bend plant. Some people were in favor of the switch to natural gas but a majority opposed.

Jacobs said the changes would cut greenhouse emissions from the plant by more than half.

“This is a very efficient way to create energy, and it’s cleaner and greener than the way the plant operates now,” Jacobs said.

Clean energy advocates disagree.

"Natural gas is even more potent in greenhouse gases than a coal plant is, at least for the first 20 years. It’s a terrible choice for us, it’s an expensive choice,” Pat Kemp, a Commissioner for District 6 in Hillsborough County said. “It’s the wrong thing to do now. Right now, they could be making far greater inroads. We are spending $58 billion a year on fossil fuels out of state when we have our own renewable resource,” Kemp said pointing to the sun.

The bottom line is that environmental groups want all renewable energy moving forward. A judge will decide on the proposed upgrades, and then it will go to the governor’s office for approval.