Lakeland Electric discovers flaw in power plant

Posted at 6:41 PM, Mar 23, 2016

Electrical engineers are rushing to find a solution a major flaw recently discovered at the coal-fueled McIntosh power plant in Lakeland.

Late Tuesday, Lakeland Electric announced a design flaw at the aging plant.

Officials say it appears that 34 years ago when the plant was built, someone miscalculated the rating of the circuit breakers.

Experts believe that if something unusual happened, like water getting into a light fixture, one of the circuit breakers could become overloaded.

"If we had an abnormal event, what could happen, for lack of a better word, is an explosion," said Cindy Clemmons, Spokesperson for the Utility.

The utility insists that the neighboring homes are safe because any type of explosion would be contained to the plant.

Clemmons said Lakeland Electric learned of a problem there a couple years ago but didn't know the severity until late last week.

The plant is shutdown right now for routine maintenance and is scheduled to go back online at the end of April.

But a lot needs to happen before the switch is turned on.

"If we can't say that our workers are going to be 100 percent safe, we will not power that plant back up," said Clemmons.

At least two employees, who wouldn't go on camera, tell ABC Action News that workers at the plant are angry because the didn't know about the unnecessary risk sooner.

All workers were informed Tuesday, right before the media.

The city is not interested in paying out millions and millions of dollars to fix the problem because the plant is not going to be around much longer. Federal guidelines call for coal power plants to be phased out within the next decade.

"It's out of date, it's old, and now they've got major problems with it that they've got by with so I think it's time to move on," said Doug Waters, who lives just down the road from the plant and who used to work there.

Decommissioning Lakeland's only coal power plant may be the cheapest option but it could backfire for residents.

Depending on the price of gas, people in Lakeland may see a spike in their electrical bill, but it's too early to tell by how much.

"This is a big deal and we recognize that," Clemmons added.

On the bright side, the city acknowledges that it is lucky. It went this long -- 34 years -- without a major incident.