Coal's Future Fading To Black
Oct 10, 2007 - McClatchy-Tribune
Information Services - Tampa Tribune
Florida, a state that has fought hard to preserve
the ban on oil production off its shores, has effectively
closed the door on another traditional source of energy.
Coal, the black rock used to generate half of the
nation's electricity, is getting the heave-ho in Florida
for its hefty output of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse
gas that scientists have linked to global warming.
This year, five planned power plants have been scrapped
in the wake of Gov. Charlie Crist's crusade against
coal. Two coal plants were rejected by state regulators
while three other coal projects were dropped as Crist's
opposition to coal resonated across the state.
Altogether, the five plants would have generated
4,642 megawatts of electricity, enough power for nearly
3 million homes in Florida.
The need for that power has not disappeared, and
if coal is no longer an option, electric utilities
will be forced to turn to more expensive, less reliable
and riskier forms of energy.
But without coal, keeping the lights on in Florida
will be almost impossible.
Demand for electricity in Florida is expected to
rise 76 percent by 2030, almost twice as fast as U.S.
demand, according to the Department of Energy.
"It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which Florida's
electricity demands can be met entirely without any
new coal-based generation," said Jim Owen, spokesman
for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for
the nation's electric utilities.
Utilities have other options to meet demand, and
though those options are cleaner, they do have disadvantages:
--Natural gas is significantly more expensive than
--Wind and solar can't be counted on as a steady
source of electricity because the wind doesn't always
blow and the sun doesn't always shine.
--Nuclear power plants are risky and require long
lead times to build.
Bad For Business
Without new coal-fired generation, electricity in
Florida will be less reliable and more expensive,
and that's bad for Florida's businesses, said Barney
Bishop, president and chief executive of Associated
Industries of Florida.
"There's no way to deliver power at the levels Floridians
need without fossil fuel," Bishop said.
Despite claims from environmental groups, Florida's
soaring demand for electricity can't be met through
conservation, Bishop added.
"That's a nice platitude, but there's no proof to
show that," he said.
Last week, Tampa Electric Co. scuttled plans to build
what the industry refers to as a "clean-coal" plant
amid state concerns about the plant's carbon dioxide
emissions. It would have been located about 40 miles
southeast of Tampa in Polk County.
The plant would have used a highly regarded clean-coal
technology known as coal gasification, which has significantly
less emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide,
the primary causes of smog and acid rain. But the
630-megawatt plant still would have emitted about
4.1 million tons a year of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse
gas suspected of causing climate change.
Tampa Electric feared it was going to be required
by the state to capture and store the carbon before
the rules for limiting carbon emissions are finalized.
Capturing carbon and storing it underground is expensive,
and no one knows for sure whether it can be done safely
Until the rules are finalized and certain obstacles
are overcome, Tampa Electric wasn't willing to make
such a risky investment.
The utility must still find a way to generate an
extra 150 megawatts a year over the next 10 years
to meet growing demand. Tampa Electric President Chuck
Black said the utility may turn to natural gas, which
is significantly more expensive than coal.
Already, natural gas is used to produce 37 percent
of the state's electricity, while 24 percent is derived
from coal. Utility executives and state officials
have repeatedly said the state is too dependent on
natural gas and should diversify its fuel mix.
"We believe coal is important, not only for the
state but for the country, from a fuel diversity perspective,"
In June, members of the Public Service Commission,
including two recently appointed by Crist, rejected
Florida Power & Light Co.'s proposal to build a coal
plant near the Florida Everglades. Later that month,
another company suspended plans to build a coal plant
near Tallahassee because of "growing concerns" about
greenhouse gas emissions. Under pressure to change,
Lakeland Electric also dropped its plan to build a
coal-fired power plant.
In August, Florida's Department of Environmental
Protection denied a clean-coal power plant proposed
by Seminole Electric Cooperative of Tampa, citing
the plants' potential effect on air and water quality.
The project was denied even though there were no "disputed
issues of fact or law."
Seminole has appealed the decision in Putnam County,
where the plant was proposed.
Don't Overlook Coal, Director Urges
Seminole said it's a mistake to exclude coal from
the state's plan to meet rising demand for electricity.
"It's a domestic fuel, it's plentiful and it's low-priced
compared to natural gas," said Jim Frauen, director
of projects for Seminole Electric.
Coal has been used to generate electricity in the
United States since the late 1800s. Its political
appeal is obvious: The United States has 250 billion
tons of recoverable coal, a 240-year supply based
on current consumption. Those coal reserves have as
much energy content as about 800 billion barrels of
"There is more BTU value in the coal we have in the
United States than in all of the oil in the Middle
East," Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National
Mining Association, said about British Thermal Units,
a measure of energy.
In July, Crist signed executive orders requiring
utilities to lower their emissions, including carbon
dioxide, to 1990 levels by 2025. The governor's order
also calls for utilities to produce 20 percent of
their electricity from renewable sources of energy,
although no deadline has been set for that mandate.
"The governor has been pretty clear on his commitment
to addressing these issues in our state," said Erin
Isaac, spokeswoman for Crist.
Limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants
means nuclear power will play a greater role in meeting
demand in Florida and elsewhere, Black said.
But it takes years to build a nuclear plant. Coal
would thus be essential in meeting demand until nuclear
capacity is built, Black said.
"In a world where you're moving toward nuclear, coal
has to be part of that transition," he said.
Reporter Russell Ray can be reached at (813) 259-7870
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Copyright (c) 2007, Tampa Tribune, Fla.
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