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Florida's got lots of energy options, but most of them are pricey

Florida is in an energy pickle.

Lots of ways to generate needed energy are being proposed and tested in the Sunshine State. But so far, almost all are proving painfully expensive and hard to deliver efficiently.

While it's great that there's such a range of experimentation under way — from nuclear and solar to wind and biofuel — any of these probably will mean more expensive bills ahead.

Here's a sampler of who's doing what in Florida.

Progress Energy remains eager to push nuclear power as a big part of its energy agenda in Florida. The reality is less than stellar. The electric utility's single nuclear power plant at Crystal River in Citrus County is broken and has been shut down since the fall of 2009. The company is still trying to figure out whether it makes financial and engineering sense to fix the plant so that its nuclear license can be extended from 2016 to 2036.

Progress also proposed building two nuclear reactors at a new site in Levy County. But delays and inefficient management decisions have pushed the most optimistic startup date to at least 2021, with a rising price tag now pegged at an astonishing $22.5 billion.

As with its Crystal River plant, Progress won't say for certain whether Levy is a "no" or a "go." For now, it's happy to collect extra fees from its customers to spend risk-free on the Levy project. Tampa Bay Times staff writer Ivan Penn reported Sunday that customers are already on the hook for more than $1 billion, and Progress will get to pocket $150 million of it for a project that may never get built.

Meanwhile, in its first year of operation, a Florida Power & Light Co. solar plant near Lake Okeechobee designed to generate electricity for 11,000 homes produced only enough for 2,056 homes. So says an Orlando Sentinel analysis. That weak performance was made worse by a "dreadful" spill of industrial fluid at the plant — an unfortunate reminder of how even well-intentioned "green" solar energy can backfire with environmental problems.

In what would be a first for Florida, a wind energy developer called Wind Capital Group in St. Louis wants to build Sugarland Wind, a project that would include 114 500-foot-tall wind turbines on 13,000 acres of farmland east of Belle Glade in Palm Beach County. If approved, the wind farm could provide enough electricity to power as many as 60,000 homes.

Wind Capital says the location already has an alternative energy market, transmission lines and, of course, wind. But the U.S. Department of the Interior is worried about the impact of such giant turbines churning away in a major migration path for birds.

Finally, BP of gulf oil spill fame wants to get an ethanol plant and its 20,000 acres of plant fuel called "energy cane" off the ground in Highlands County with a $400 million investment.

Each of these energy projects has suffered setbacks and extra expense. None of the projects means "cheap" energy. On the bright side, Florida has a diversity of projects that, in time, might deliver energy at lower costs.

In the meantime, thank goodness natural gas remains a bargain.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com. Read his Venture blog at tampabay.com/blogs/venturebiz/.

Florida's got lots of energy options, but most of them are pricey 03/12/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 11:43am]
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